Which Chicago Billionaire is Giving Big for Transgender Studies?

Those Pritzkers just keep getting more interesting. 

Some 11 members of the famous Chicago family are billionaires, and it's not easy to keep track of all the philanthropic doings of this clan. 

The Pritzkers consistently make news for big donations to local parks, education and the arts. In recent years, for example, J.B. Pritzker has emerged as one of the biggest backers of expanding pre-K, as we've reported. We've also written about a younger Pritzker, Rachel, who's backing new ideas with a keen eye on ecological challenges. Then there's Nicholas and Susan Pritzker, who run the Libra Foundation which supports social justice and environmental work. 


However, a Pritzker we have paid a bit less attention to thus far just made a huge donation that the LGBT community might be interested in.

Jennifer Pritzker just made a headline worthy donation of her owna $2 million grant to a university in Canada to establish a chair for transgender studies. This is a bold move, considering that there no other transgender studies academic research positions like this exist anywhere in the world.

So who is Jennifer Pritzker and why is this cause so important to her?

To start, it’s important to note that Pritzker identifies as a transgender individual. She was born as James N. Pritzker and underwent an official legal name change in 2013. She identifies herself as a woman and is known as the world’s first and only openly transgender billionaire.

That Pritzker is embracing the role of a public funder of transgender work is significant. It's been a big deal in the past when wealthy LGBT people have emerged as philanthropists—like when Jon Stryker came out as gay and quickly emerged as a top LGBT funder through the Arcus Foundation. (It's worth noting that a huge chunk of funding for LGBT causes remains anonymous.)

Pritzker served in the army and received numerous medals and honors. In terms of broader philanthropy, she founded the Tawani Foundation, which claims the following missions and commitments:

  • Enhancing and promoting awareness of the importance of the citizen soldier, through preservation of military history & heritage
  • Preserving unique sites of significance to American history
  • Improving public spaces and services that enhance quality of life
  • Honoring the history and supporting the service of military personnel through recognition of achievement

Today, Pritzker is worth an estimated $1.73 billion. She serves on the board of directors for the Pritzker Military Museum and Library, and her professional bio can be found on that organization’s website and on the Tawani Enterprises site. To learn more about her approach to philanthropy, read Forward’s How Colonel Jennifer Pritzker Pushes for Transgender Rights in Military.”

But now, back to this interesting new grant commitment.

A sociology professor has already been named the inaugural chair for the transgender studies position at the University of Victoria British Columbia, a man named Aaron Devor who has studied the topic for over 30 years. He founded the universities’ Transgender Archives that hold publications and memorabilia from notable people in the transgender movement.

"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."

Until recently, transgender issues and research had rarely receive funding and usually only by a few passionate philanthropists here and there. The Erickson Educational Foundation, founded by a transgender man named Reed Erickson in the 1960s, was a pioneer in this type of funding. The Calamus Foundation, the Arcus Foundation, and the NoVo Foundation have also shown support recently for transgender issues in America.


Jennifer Pritzker’s foundation isn’t accepting unsolicited letters of inquiry at this time, but she definitely keeps up with what’s happening in the transgender community and is on the lookout for promising research studies to improve the quality of life for transgender people. For example, she granted $1.35 million to the University of California’s Palm Center to conduct a study about transgender people in the military.

On an interesting side note, she’s also been into funding historic preservation and restoration efforts around Chicago and is actually opening up her second bed & breakfast. Stone Porch and Stone Terrace are both B&Bs located in historic landmark homes in suburban Evanston.