Every aspect of world-famous Transgender initiatives at UVic touched by donor support

Dr. Aaron Devor stands smiling in the middle of two attendees at the Moving Trans History Forward conference.
Dr. Aaron Devor (center) with attendees at the Moving Trans History Forward conference.

Back in the early 1980s when Aaron Devor started his career researching and studying gender diversity, the term transgender was not widely known or used. Today, the University of Victoria is home to the world’s only Chair in Transgender Studies (held by Devor), houses the largest collection of Transgender Archives and hosts one of the leading conferences in the world focused on Trans+ topics, Moving Trans History Forward (MTHF). All of which are founded and led by Devor and his team. Each of these incredible initiatives would not exist and continue today without the support of donors. 

As UVic marks the 12th anniversary of the archives, the eighth year with a dedicated Chair in Transgender Studies and a fifth conference a couple months away, Devor sees the collective impact both on campus and in the community, and says the momentum is building.

“Trans+ people are still a very small portion of the population, and they were all but invisible even seven years ago. Now, I see increasing visibility and public will to figure out ‘how do we do this? How do we make the world a place where we can all be comfortable, including Trans+ people?’”

The history and impact of the archives

Devor’s research and writing on gender diversity led to him connecting with people interested in similar topics around the globe. Through these connections, and with a desire to develop and disseminate a body of accurate knowledge about Trans+ people, he secured three large material donations of publications, photographs and audio/visual materials. Those gifts were the foundation for the Transgender Archives, which officially opened in 2007.

Archives are the source of essential raw materials for historians. “For Trans+ people, very little of their history has been written,” says Devor. This history is pivotal for any person or community to gain information and understanding about where they’ve come from. Prior to these donations to the Transgender Archives, a lot of these rare materials were not accessible or available to the public, almost always kept in private personal collections. 

The Transgender Archives, part of UVic Libraries, are accessible to anyone free of charge. The collections, enhanced through the years by many other significant donations, if lined up on one long shelf would spans over 1.5 football fields long, and contains material that dates back more than 120 years from 23 countries. It includes documents, rare publications and memorabilia of persons and organizations associated with activism by and for Trans+ people. One exhibit available online is Word of Mouth, a digital exhibit about how Trans+ communities developed in North America throughout the latter half of the twentieth century. Its creation was possible thanks to several oral history testimonies that were donated to the archives.

Collage that in the centre has the Transgender Archives logo and in the bottom left reads University of Victoria libraries. The logo is surrounded by memorabilia from the Trans+ community like photos, magazines, pins  and a pair of pink boots.
The Transgender Archives makes many materials and resources available online for people around the world to access.

Visiting scholars and members of the community, such as individuals writing novels or working on art or cultural pieces, regularly access the archives to inform their work. They can apply to receive a small stipend to offset some of the travel or incurred expenses. This funding is also provided by donors. 

“The Chair of Transgender Studies and the collections at UVic sparked the idea for my upcoming dissertation, so to be welcomed to campus through their visiting scholar fellowship is beyond meaningful to me. Beyond the significance of having the chance to engage with amazing periodicals and ephemera, I am excited to meet and build relationships with scholars at UVic and other fellows. I already foresee this opportunity to be a life-changing one and I am extremely grateful.” –Hannah Grabowski, a 2022 visiting fellowship recipient.

World’s only Chair in Transgender Studies

The Chair in Transgender studies would not exist without the financial contributions of many donors. A founding donation of $1 million USD established the Chair position and this contribution is still central to the program. This funding enables the Chair to hire one full-time and one part-time staff member to assist with a wide range of initiatives. Since then, contributions from many other donors have supported the Chair’s work. Donor funds also pay for scholarships, assistance for visiting fellowships, the lecture series, the art and cultural series and social events for students and community members.

Since 2016, 79 awards totaling $114,500 have been distributed amongst Trans+ undergraduate and graduate students. Master’s student Elif Cansu Gümüşpala was a 2022 recipient of the Chair in Transgender Studies Scholarship.

“As a person who is a nonbinary queer and lives in Turkey, receiving [this] scholarship has many meanings for me. In addition to getting financial support, which was very crucial for me because of the current economic crisis in Turkey, it gives me energy and encourages me to keep my studies on the subjects that I want despite the oppressive and exclusive attitude of my country. Receiving this scholarship has already made me feel safe in the inclusive environment of the school.” - Elif Cansu Gümüşpala

Strengthening Trans+ social and cultural communities

Members of the Trans+ community, activists, academics, artists, and allies also gather every two years at the Moving Trans History Forward conferences. Since 2014, each conference has increased dramatically in size, attracting a global audience to UVic—in person or online. Those who attend in person receive meals for all three days and spend time exchanging ideas, socializing and hearing from inspirational speakers. Approximately two-thirds of attendees are supported by donor funds through subsidized tickets.

 “These conferences are really important for people who almost never have the ability to be in a place where being Trans+ is unremarkable, where you’re not different for being Trans+. No one is going to ask you intrusive questions, no one is going to look at you funny,” says Devor. “It’s a place to relax and be celebrated that you’re Trans+. It’s meaningful to have days on end where you can be calm about the fact that you’re Trans+ and also get excited about it. For two-thirds of the attendees, that wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for donors.” 

In addition to all these academic activities, Devor and his team also host regular social, cultural and art events for members of the Trans+ community and its allies. Alivia Wang (BSc’18, MSc’21), who began her transition during her time at UVic and received a scholarship from the Chair in Transgender Studies, says these kinds of events made a difference to her. “Attending the nacho nights put on by the Chair allowed me to find community and the resources I needed to support myself throughout my transition.”


Visit the Chair in Transgender Studies website, the Transgender Archives or the Moving Trans History Forward conference page to learn more. 

Make a donation to support the activities, research and initiatives led by the Chair in Transgender Studies to benefit the lives of Trans+ people (donate in USD).