An estimated 15,500 transgender people are service members of the United States army. Jewish colonel Jennifer Pritzker stands behind a campaign to let them be open with their identity while serving
Colonel Jennifer Natalya Pritzker is not much for the spotlight. Like the rest of her family, the massively wealthy Chicago-based real estate scions, she rarely gives interviews. But the 63-year-old, whose official title is Colonel (IL) Jennifer N. Pritzker IL ARNG (Ret), doesn’t have to say much for her mission to be clear. With an estimated net worth of $1.78 billion, she is throwing her resources behind a campaign to change the United States military policy that bans transgender people from becoming soldiers.
In 2013, Pritzker’s philanthropic organization, the Tawani Foundation, which supports service members and military education, issued a $1.35 million grant to the Palm Center, a University of California, Santa Barbara-based LGBT think tank. Using the influx of funding, the Center launched the Transgender Military Service Initiative, a project aimed at sponsoring research and encouraging public discussion on the topic. Thanks to the donation, the Palm Center will host 16 scholars investigating how the military could integrate trans individuals.
The Foundation’s scholarship, combined with Pritzker’s influence, has increased the visibility of the issue, a crucial step toward the repeal of the ban. While the military policy known as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was repealed three years ago, allowing lesbian, gay and bisexual members to serve openly, transgender people are still excluded — on medical grounds. A military regulation prohibits those with “psychosexual disorders” which, according to this policy, include cross-dressing and a history of gender transition, from serving in the armed forces. This is why funding for scholarship on the issue is particularly crucial, according to transgender rights activist and former U.S. Army officer Allyson Robinson. “In a fight like this one, that is about educating our senior military leaders to convince them to make policy changes, having solid and objective research is critical,” Robinson said, adding that Pritzker’s gift had been a “godsend” for the estimated 15,500 transgender individuals who serve in the military “in silence” — because the ban has kept them from coming out.
This year, the Palm Center has already released two reports about transgender military service: The first found that there was no medical rationale for the ban; the second outlined policy changes that could be effected to integrate transgender service members.