Philanthropist donates millions for a chair in transgender studies

Adrian Salgado / Assistant News Director

Jennifer Pritzker, a Chicago billionaire philanthropist, donated $2 million to a university in Canada in order to create a chair of transgender studies, which will become unique to any research position in global academia.

The funding for the University of Victoria in British Columbia comes from Pritzker’s Tawani Foundation. Half of the money will support the chair position for five years, and the other half is pledged to match other donations to the program.
Aaron Devor, a sociology professor who has studied transgender issues for three decades, was named inaugural chair.
“Far too many trans and gender-nonconforming people still live in poverty and fear,” Devor said in a statement.

“As the inaugural chair, I will act as a resource locally and internationally for those needing information for their own research or for policy development, as well as building linkages between community-based and academic scholars working in transgender studies.”

Devor also is the founder of the university’s Transgender Archives, launched in 2012, which houses publications and memorabilia detailing the history and work of notable transgender and gender-nonconforming activists.

In November, the FIU community facilitated a conversation concerning trans issues.

Campbell Alexander, member of the Board of Directors for the AQUA Women’s Foundation and partner of FIU explained, “It’s great to actually have a conversation with someone and have them see that we’re just regular people,”

“Unfortunately, there is a lot of stigma against the letter ‘T’ [in LGBT].” said Alexander.
The Tawani Foundation, a supporter of military personnel and history, is led by Pritzker, who is transgender and a retired Army lieutenant colonel.
At FIU’s BBC event “Understanding the ‘T’ in LGBT”, a student shared her experiences with transgender issues.

“I am currently taking an LGBTQ course in alliance with FIU’s global learning initiative,” said Katherine Marcelino, a junior English student at FIU.

“I have also been a part of the committee that organizes the events for transgender week,” said Marcelino.

According to Marcelino, “It’s important that we don’t conform or adhere to just one stereotype of gender or one sense of self.” “It allows you to relate to many different kinds of people. It also helps you to be more sensitive to the needs of others,” said Marcelino.
Much transgender research throughout North America has been supported through philanthropy. Some of the first pushes for exploring transgender issues came through funding and support from the Erickson Educational Foundation, according to Devor.

Reed Erickson, a transgender man, started the foundation in the early 1960s. Among other things, the organization sponsored the first symposiums of the Harry Benjamin International Gender Dysphoria Association, named for the doctor who worked with patients with gender dysphoria. That organization now is called the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
Two other similar academic positions studying transgender issues have been established but are no longer active, according to university officials. Both were in the Netherlands. An endocrinologist was chair of transsexology at The Free University of Amsterdam for 20 years, and a psychologist was chair of gender development and psychopathology at the University of Utrecht Medical Centre for 10 years.
“The chair in transgender studies sets (University of Victoria) apart,” university President Jamie Cassels said in a statement.

“I am proud of our campus community’s commitment to diversity, as well as grateful to Dr. Devor, Lt. Col. Pritzker, the Tawani Foundation and all those who help us continually learn and grow in a welcoming environment that promotes the rights and affirms the dignity of all persons.”
Additional Reporting by TNS Staff

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