The University of Victoria in British Columbia now has what is believed to be the world’s first endowed academic chair of transgender studies thanks to a $2 million donation by Chicago philanthropist Jennifer Pritzker via her foundation, the Chicago Tribune reported on Tuesday. Pritzker, a retired Army lieutenant colonel whose family launched the Hyatt Hotels Corporation in 1957, founded the Tawani Foundation in an effort to preserve military history and better the lives of military personnel, among other related causes.
Dr. Aaron Devor, a sociology professor who has studied transgender issues since the 1980s and founded the university’s transgender archives in 2012, has been named the inaugural chair; both Pritzker and Devor are transgender. According to the Tribune, “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.”
In a statement to the Tribune, Devor noted the importance of the position and outlined his plans for the new appointment:
“Far too many trans and gender-nonconforming people still live in poverty and fear. 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.”
University of Victoria President Jamie Cassels said the donation will “help us continually learn and grow in a welcoming environment that promotes the rights and affirms the dignity of all persons.”
Pritzker’s donation is the latest in landmark moments for Jewish transgender people, and it does not come without precedent. In 2014, “The State of Trans* and Intersex Organizing,” a report by Global Action for Trans* Equality and the American Jewish World Service, outlined the need for philanthropy focused specifically on transgender people, rather than broader LGBT-based funding. Last August, the White House hired a Jewish transgender woman as its first openly trans staffer; a descendent of the Rabbi Baal Shem Tov came out as transgender in November 2015; and, of course, Jeffrey Tambor has helped bring transgender issues to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences alike as the star of Transparent, the “most Jewish TV show in awhile” according to Tablet’s Sara Ivry.
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