UVic Chair in Transgender Studies renewed for five more years

Campus News

Chair is one of only two research centres in the world to focus on transgender scholarship

Photo of Aaron Devor, by Blake Little.

The UVic Chair in Transgender Studies has been approved for a new five-year term. The Chair was the first of its kind when it was founded in 2016 and is still one of only two research chairs in the world focused on the “activities of interest to trans, nonbinary, Two-Spirit, and other gender diverse people.” 

Over the last five years, the Chair has compiled the largest collection of trans-related materials in the world, at over 160 metres, hosted the biennial Moving Trans History Forward conference which has been running since 2014, and worked to foster communities and safe spaces for those who identify as gender diverse.

Aaron Devor, who is a professor in the Sociology department as well as the founding Chair in Transgender Studies, says that he remains ever-busy with planning the 2021 edition of the Moving Trans History Forward conference, gathering materials for the archives, fundraising for the Chair, and welcoming international scholars who visit UVic through one of their many grants and scholarships.

On Jan. 28, Devor announced that renowned transgender and BIPOC activist Miss Major will be one of the keynote speakers for this years Moving Trans History Forward conference. Major has spent over 50 years advocating for the rights of trans people, particularly trans women of colour. She has faced police brutality, imprisonment, and sexual abuse both for her activism and for her identity.

“She’s done a lot of work on prison activism […] and she’s done advocacy for sex workers as well,” Devor told the Martlet. “So she’s really an icon in the transgender community.”

Devor says that this year’s conference, which will take place from March 11-14, poses logistical challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. In past years the conference was held in person, and there had been plans to host it at the Victoria Conference Centre last spring due to outgrowing the capacity of UVic’s lecture halls before the pandemic. Considering the ongoing health crisis, Devor decided to follow the lead of his colleagues and move the conference online. 

“It’s going to be logistically a real challenge for us,” said Devor. “But we think we’ll be ready.”

Devor says that he expects attendance to be around 500 people but also allowed that he has heard from peers that attendance at conferences can sometimes double when moved online. So there is a very real possibility that this year’s conference breaks the previous record of 600 attendees.

Another initiative of the Chair is the Discovery Tool for the Transgender Archives, which is known to be the world’s largest collection of transgender and other gender-diverse publications.

“We’ve now created the discovery tool which is a way for people to search this very large database of newsletter articles and announcements of events, and to search for events, places, people, subject matter, publications, by date,” he said.

Additionally, users can access publications that UVic has not digitized themselves. The Chair works with the Digital Transgender Archives, which is a partnership of 60 archives in libraries around the world.  

Through that partnership, publications that are present in other libraries can also be made readily available through this discovery tool to the users. However useful this discovery tool may be, Devor mentions that it is still a work-in-progress and the database continues to be updated.

Looking forward, Devor hopes to see a department at UVic that would issue academic degrees in the area of Transgender Studies.

“This is a vision for the long term,” he said. “There is no such thing anywhere in the world for Transgender Studies so I would love to see [UVic] be the place for the first department of Transgender Studies.”

The Chair will also be hosting a Zoom Nachos Night at the end of February, awarding scholarships to undergraduate and graduate trans, nonbinary, or Two-Spirit UVic students, and will continue to strengthen transgender scholarship and communities.