Getty Images

News and Analysis

Big Money: How The World’s First Trans Billionaire Could Impact Tennessee’s Fight To Protect Children

As a bill to ban sex-change procedures for minors makes its way through the Tennessee legislature, leftist groups in the state have promised legal action to stop the enforcement of the proposed law, which protects children from life-altering and irreversible procedures. 

Gender activists have used a similar playbook in other states, with judges blocking laws protecting children in Arkansas and Alabama. Now with laws working through the Tennessee legislature to ban gender procedures on children (HB/SB 1), children’s exposure to explicit performances (HB 9/SB 3), and not allowing state dollars to fund gender surgeries through TennCare (HB 1215/SB 1339), leftists groups like the ACLU of TN and Lambda Legal are already planning legal action. 

The efforts of groups like the ACLU-TN are in part funded by the world’s first transgender billionaire, Jennifer Pritzker (born James), an Illinois-based investor whose family has been known to financially back the transgender movement through American academic, legal, and medical institutions.

Although Pritzker has not appeared to publicly come out against the recent crop of gender-related legislation, the billionaire has backed groups opposing the law and threatened monetary retribution in the past if Tennessee moved forward with legislation deemed not “inclusive.” 

Why does a native Chicagoan have such a dog in the fight in Tennessee? Largely for two reasons. Pritzker has lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, and the state is home to the Pritzker family trust, something which the billionaire cousin of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL) has said could be moved.

Perhaps the clearest link between Pritzker and the transgender movement in Tennessee is the billionaire’s support of the ACLU-TN, with six-figure donations coming in both 2021 and 2022 from Pritzker’s Tawani Foundation.

The first came in July 2021 when Pritzker announced a $101,000 donation through the Tawani Foundation to the ACLU of Tennessee to “fight Tennessee’s anti-transgender laws in court.” 

“Anti-LGBTQ laws harm the economic well-being of the state, while respect for diversity and inclusion attract our nation’s best and brightest,” Pritzker claimed. “I stand ready to continue the good fight as necessary, including conferring directly with Governor Bill Lee and the Tennessee Legislature to find truly humane and just solutions to the issues raised by transgender equality.”

This donation followed Pritzker saying that the state was not being “inclusive” and threatening to pull the private family trust from the state, assets which former Republican Gov. Bill Haslam had reportedly worked hard to bring to the state. This came as Tennessee pursued a law that would prevent males from competing in women’s sports if they identified as female. 

Despite the threats, Lee still signed a series of Republican-backed transgender bills in May 2021 and the spring of 2022, and Pritzker gave $4,300 to Lee’s re-election campaign. 

However, Pritzker has continued to back the ACLU-TN for legal and educational purposes in the Volunteer State. In 2022, the Tawani Foundation gave the group $164,205 for the purpose of “legal work in TN to advance and defend justice for transgender individuals.”

The Daily Wire Wire reached out to the Tawani Foundation for further clarity on how money is dispersed to the ACLU-TN, but at least part of it goes toward the group’s TRANScend Tennessee’s “educational initiatives.” 

“The TRANScend Tennessee program leverages public education, community outreach and support, and political engagement to help change the overall narrative about trans people in Tennessee from a negative, distanced one to a positive, empathetic one,” the program’s website says. 

A stated purpose of the program is to prevent “anti-trans legislation and rhetoric” from becoming part of public policy in Tennessee. The group has also vowed to take “immediate legal action against proposed restrictions on their health care currently being considered by the state legislature.”

On February 13, ACLU-TN staff attorney Lucas Cameron-Vaugn claimed that gender procedures on children were “necessary” and “effective.”

“Politicians are risking the lives of young people by forcing their way into family decision-making, a fundamental right which has traditionally been protected against government intrusion. Gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth is safe, effective, and necessary care. ACLU-TN stands ready to defend the freedom of families to make these decisions for their children. Should this dangerous legislation pass, we will see the state in court,” Cameron-Vaugn claimed. 

Interestingly, the Tawani Foundation also designated $75,000 in 2022 to Vanderbilt University Medical Center, a grant which was categorized as coming under the “gender and human sexuality” category. 

Vanderbilt’s gender clinic has come under fire for performing mastectomies on teenage girls and providing so-called hormone therapy to children. The Daily Wire has reached out to the Tawani Foundation for further details on the grant but has not yet heard back. 

Other beneficiaries of the Tawani Foundation in 2022 include $12,500 for Athlete Ally’s “transgender athlete research project,” $25,000 for trans and “non-binary” youth camps, two grants totaling $100,000 for the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (a group that has labeled the actions of Gov. Lee “dangerous”), and $15,000 to the Kinsey Institute/IU Foundation

Pritzker has also been a player in state politics, donating to the campaigns of a number of Tennessee state Democrats and Republicans in recent years, including Democratic State Rep. Caleb Hemmer whose back and forth with Daily Wire host Matt Walsh at a hearing over HB 1 went viral. Other Democrats who questioned Walsh who have been on the receiving end of financial support from Pritzker are Rep. John Ray Clemmons (who received $1,600 in 2021) and Rep. Bo Mitchell (who also received $1,600 in 2021). 

In recent years, Pritzker has also given to Rep Mike Stewart (Democrat), Rep. Brenda Gilmore (Democrat), Sen. Page Walley (Republican), former Rep. Eddie Mannis (a Republican who was critical of the trans sports bill), former Rep. Jason Potts (Democrat), Sen. Heidi Campbell (Democrat), Sen. Sara Kyle (Democrat), and Rep. Jason Hodges (Democrat). 

Pritzker’s funding for various trans initiatives, not only in Tennessee, but also around the country, shows how money can be used to push the ideology that has spread throughout the country, in places from ruby-red Tennessee to deep-blue California, so quickly. 

Pritzker’s previous threats to pull the family trust out of the state are also indicative of the role that big business can have in attempting to intimidate conservative states from backing down on legislation (the Tennessee Pride Chamber of Commerce joined a protest against the Republican-backed bills this month). 

Many Republicans in the state appear to be unfazed by potential pressure coming from business and legal groups. Republican House Majority Leader William Lamberth, who sponsored HB 1, told The Daily Wire that his ban on “sexual mutilation” was common sense and should be supported across the political spectrum.

“An overwhelming majority of Tennesseans agree that children should be protected from sexual mutilation and adult performances with sexual content. This should not be a partisan issue,” Lamberth said in a statement to The Daily Wire.

Lamberth added that he is confident that Tennessee, where many companies have moved in recent years, will continue to retain its reputation for being a strong business state. 

Tennessee is a strong pro-business and pro-family state. Conservative ideas put into action over the past decade have helped our people, our businesses, and our economy thrive,” he said. “New businesses and families are flooding to our state because they know we offer better opportunities, lower taxes, and a great quality of life. I have absolutely no concerns about that trend slowing down as a result of legislation we pass in the General Assembly.”

Still, Lamberth’s bill will likely need to survive court challenges if it becomes law. And where the court battle goes is anybody’s guess. 

Create Free Account

Continue reading this exclusive article and join the conversation, plus watch free videos on DW+

Already a member?

Got a tip worth investigating?

Your information could be the missing piece to an important story. Submit your tip today and make a difference.

Submit Tip
Download Daily Wire Plus

Don't miss anything

Download our App

Stay up-to-date on the latest
news, podcasts, and more.

Download on the app storeGet it on Google Play
The Daily Wire   >  Read   >  Big Money: How The World’s First Trans Billionaire Could Impact Tennessee’s Fight To Protect Children