Metro Weekly

Palm Center, an LGBTQ Military Think Tank, Closes Down

After 24 years of advocacy, the research institute that helped shape public opinion on LGBTQ service members is halting daily operations.

Photo: Andrey Popov, via Dreamstime

The Palm Center, a research institute that specializes in researching LGBTQ inclusion in the U.S. military, is shutting down day-to-day operations after 24 years of advocacy work.

The institute, which was previously affiliated with the University of California, has long advocated for an “open service” policy where LGBTQ individuals would be allowed to serve regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It also worked with numerous partner organizations while conducting and publicizing studies that examined how such a policy would be an improvement over the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy and its categorical ban on transgender service members. 

The Palm Center became known for spearheading hard-hitting communications campaigns, grounded in research, such as uncovering data on Arabic linguists who had been fired for being gay and discovering the Pentagon was sending gay troops to fight, only to forcibly discharge them — often with less than honorable status — upon their return from battle.

The institute conducted at least 65 research studies, many of which were published in top peer-reviewed and military journals, and used its research to cultivate support for lifting the bans on LGBTQ service members by enlisting the help of former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former U.S. Surgeons General.

Among the Palm Center’s key accomplishments were debunking falsehoods propagated by opponents of open service policies. For instance, the Palm Center frequently dismantled arguments — including those cited by former President Donald Trump — about the allegedly high costs of providing medical care for transgender troops, demonstrating that the cost would be “negligible” and would amount to “little more than a rounding error in the military’s $47.8 billion health care budget.”

The Palm Center also questioned the conventional widsom, in 2003 — long before the stance became popular later that decade — on whether the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which served as an effective ban on gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers due to the way it was enforced, was actually necessary to preserve unit cohesion and military readiness, as some claimed it was.

Military leaders praised the institute’s successes and credited it with bolstering the larger societal shift towards supporting an all-inclusive fighting force.

“It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the Palm Center’s role in working for inclusive military service for LGBT Americans,” Admiral Al Steinman, former Director of Health and Safety for the U.S. Coast Guard, which is the service branch’s equivalent of a Surgeon General, said in a statement. “Through its research and outreach the center demolished the idea that LGBT service members would diminish our nation’s military readiness, helping pave the way for the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ and removing the transgender ban.”

“Few organizations figured out how to move the needle on military opinion so effectively as the Palm Center,” Admiral Mike Mullen, who serves as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was overturned, said in a statement. “Its research and policy guidance were invaluable in showing that inclusive service was not complicated and would not harm readiness. The Palm Center reframed the national conversation over LGBT military service, using facts and research to conclusively demonstrate that inclusion makes our armed forces, and our country, stronger.”

While the Palm Center will cease daily operations beginning on Friday, Sept. 30, a new website highlighting the institute’s accomplishments, as well as lessons about successful strategies for using research to inform and shape public opinion, will be offered online at www.palmcenterlegacy.com.

“Creating and leading the Palm Center has been the pleasure, pride, and honor of my life,” Dr. Aaron Belkin, a political science professor at San Francisco State University and the founder and director of the think tank, said in a statement. “We worked with brilliant and generous partners, allies, center staff, veterans and service members to show that facts matter, that discrimination undermines our country, and that equality makes it better. I’ll be forever grateful for this opportunity to help make the world a little more just.”

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