September 25, 2022

Palm Center Ceases Operations after 24 Years of LGBT Military Policy Research 

Adm. Mike Mullen Credits Palm Center with Helping End Discriminatory Service Bans

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – After 24 years of researching LGBT military service bans, the Palm Center will shut its doors this Friday, September 30, leaving behind a legacy of inclusive policy for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans who serve, or seek to serve, their country in uniform. The independent research institute, which was previously affiliated with the University of California, worked with numerous partner organizations while carving out a research niche that involved conducting and publicizing studies that were leveraged to overturn two longstanding bans on service by openly LGBT troops. It distinguished itself from traditional think tanks with its assertive focus on communications and by punching above its weight as evidenced by tremendous output on a small budget. Among its top achievements were:

  • Spearheading hard-hitting communications campaigns grounded in research, such as uncovering data on Arabic linguists fired for being gay and discovering that the Pentagon was sending gay troops to war, only to fire them upon their return from battle
  • Paving the way for repeal of the military’s transgender ban by dismantling medical arguments that sustained discrimination, and receiving White House recognition for being one of the organizations most responsible for helping the military lift its transgender ban
  • Cultivating support for inclusion from top leaders such as former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former U.S. Surgeons General
  • Conducting 65 research studies, many of which were published in top peer-reviewed as well as military journals
  • Earning recognition by The Advocate magazine as one of the most effective LGBT organizations in the U.S.

Click here for a list of the Palm Center’s top policy achievements

Dr. Aaron Belkin, a political science professor who is founder and director of the Palm Center, reflected on what his time in the movement has meant to him. “Creating and leading the Palm Center has been the pleasure, pride, and honor of my life,” said Belkin. “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.” With his 24 years of leadership, Belkin is one of the longest-serving directors of an LGBT organization. He will remain Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University.

Military leaders praised the Palm Center’s role in lifting “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the transgender ban. “Few organizations figured out how to move the needle on military opinion so effectively as the Palm Center,” said Admiral Mike Mullen, who served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time the ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ ban was overturned. “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.”

“It would be impossible to overstate the importance of the Palm Center’s role in working for inclusive military service for LGBT Americans,” said Admiral Al Steinman, former Director of Health and Safety (Surgeon General equivalent) of the U.S. Coast Guard. Admiral Steinman, who was the first retired Flag Officer to come out publicly as gay, added, “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,” said Steinman, who went on to play a key role in advocating for inclusive service.

While the Palm Center is shutting down day-to-day operations, a new website that showcases its accomplishments, as well as lessons learned about successful strategies for using research to inform public opinion and achieve social change, is now live at:

Visit the new Palm Center legacy website by clicking here

The website includes over a dozen never-before-published policy memos that Palm Center staff provided to military leaders during the process of overturning the transgender ban, and Palm staff are proud that the Defense Department incorporated many of the memos’ key recommendations into inclusive policy.