Trans Billionaire Funds World's First Endowed Chair in Trans Studies

Jennifer Pritzker

The 20-year-old Tawani Foundation has donated $1 million to the University of Victoria in British Columbia to create what is reportedly the world’s first endowed chair in transgender studies, according to a statement by the university.

Founded by billionaire philanthropist and investor, Jennifer N. Pritzker—an out trans, retired lieutenant colonel in the United States Army and heir to the Chicago Pritzker family fortune—the foundation has also pledged to match other donors’ contributions by up to $1 million to support the endowed professorship. 

Through the foundation’s generosity, Aaron H. Devor, an internationally regarded sexologist and a trans professor of sociology at the university, has now become the inaugural chair in transgender studies.

Devor is also the founder and academic director of the school’s Transgender Archives. Founded in 2012, the collection “represents 17 countries on five continents, more than a century of research and over 50 years of activism,” said the statement, and contains materials that if lined up “along one shelf” would “stretch the length of a football field." The archives will host the Moving Trans History Forward conference at the university in March.  

“Far too many trans and gender nonconforming people still live in poverty and fear,” Devor said. “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.”

“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,” added the university’s President Jamie Cassels. “The chair in transgender studies sets UVic apart as a place that offers the highest quality research and is also home to exceptional students, faculty and staff who inspire bold action for positive impact on the lives of others.”

With a mission expressed on its website “to enhance the awareness and understanding of the importance of the Citizen Soldier,” the Tawani Foundation has supported dozens of nonprofit organizations to advance research in military affairs and history, historic preservation, health and wellness, and human rights. Previously, the foundation awarded $1.35 million to the Palm Center for their Transgender Military Initiative, which brought together 11 research projects that studied the inclusion of trans troops in the U.S. military. The foundation also sponsors the Pritzker Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing

Two universities in the Netherlands previously hosted now-inactive professorships focused on trans issues, reported the Chicago TribuneOne of these positions was at the Free University of Amsterdam, which had a chair of transsexology for 20 years. The other was at the University of Utrecht Medical Centre, which had a chair of gender development and psychopathology for 10 years.

Devor also told the Chicago Tribune that transgender research throughout North America has been supported through philanthropy, and the Erickson Educational Foundation was key to that support. Devor has researched the work of Reed Erickson, a Texas-born transgender man who started the Erickson Educational Foundation in the 1960s and supported ONE, Inc., a pioneering gay and lesbian organization fabled for its ONE Magazine and ONE Institute Quarterly. The Erickson Educational Foundation also helped sponsor one of the first symposiums of the organization that is now called the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.

Watch the university’s video in which Devor discusses his work on transgender people.