WASHINGTON — The research institute best known for coordinating more than a decade of research into the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, the Palm Center, has received a $1.35 million grant over the next three years to study transgender service in the United States military, BuzzFeed has learned.
Indra Lusero, the project director of the Palm Center's Transgender Military Initiative, has commissioned 16 scholars to conduct 11 studies investigating "whether and how the U.S. armed forces could include transgender troops without undermining readiness" — in areas ranging from privacy and medical accommodations to the experiences of foreign militaries and sports programs.
"This academic research will inform an important public conversation by providing facts and evidence about transgender military service and gender expression in armed forces. Militaries around the world are updating their policies, and we are already conducting research in Canada, Britain and Australia to learn whether their trans-inclusive regulations have impacted readiness," Lusero said in a statement provided to BuzzFeed.
Current U.S. military regulations regularly lead transgender service members to be discharged if their gender identity is found out. Unlike the "don't ask, don't tell" law that had to be repealed by Congress, however, the regulations that lead to transgender-based discharges could be changed by the leadership at the Pentagon or President Barack Obama.
The Palm Center's $1.35 million "launch grant" was funded by the Tawani Foundation, which itself was founded by Col. James Pritzker. Pritzker is the cousin of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. The Tawani Foundation aims "to affect significant transformation of organizations and educational programs that enrich knowledge, preserve military heritage, improve health and wellness and conserve unique sites for enduring positive impact on individuals, communities and societies."
Nathaniel Frank, the author of Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America and a former scholar with the Palm Center, praised the news. "I'm a big believer in ongoing research, and this is a crucial first step in that effort," he told BuzzFeed, calling this grant "a major initiative by a key player who educated the public on gay military service."
Referring to the effort to repeal "don't ask, don't tell," he noted, "The education dimension for getting people to understand the importance of openly gay service in the military, getting the country and the military and the Congress in the right position was a long game. The same kind of long game in regard to transgender service has not yet been played."
The Palm Center is aiming to change that. According to the institute, the Transgender Military Initiative is the largest and most comprehensive academic research project conducted to date on transgender military service.
Of the effort, Frank said, "It's absolutely something we need to do," adding, "I think it shouldn't take as long as 'don't ask, don't tell' [repeal], but I do think that that research piece of the puzzle does need to be put into place."
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
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