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Oh, Canada! Transgender Archives and Research Center Arises

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I've been fortunate to know some remarkable people since I began my transition over 20 years ago. One of them is Dr. Aaron Devor, who has been doing unsung but indispensable work for years managing the world's foremost transgender archives. He is very fortunate to call home the University of Victoria, British Columbia's hidden gem sitting on Vancouver Island, itself one of the most beautiful places in the world. This public university is rated by the prestigious Times Higher Education World University Rankings as in the top 1 percent of universities in the world.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly to some, UVic has become a world-class center for transgender research, largely due to the vision and hard work of Dr. Devor. Aaron is a world-renowned researcher in sociology, one of the founders of transgender studies, a former Dean of Graduate Studies, an out trans man, and the founder and Academic Director of the world's largest transgender archives.

The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria is committed to the preservation of the history of pioneering activists, community leaders, and researchers who have contributed to the betterment of transgender people anywhere in the world. The UVic Transgender Archives began actively acquiring documents, rare publications, and memorabilia of persons and organizations associated with transgender activism in 2007. I was fortunate to be present when Aaron officially announced the Archives at the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) meetings in Atlanta in September 2011. The collection includes more than 600 books on transgender topics, more than 500 transgender newsletters from around the world (including a full run of the pathbreaking Transvestia, 1960-86), and personal papers and memorabilia of transgender pioneers.

The archives began with the generous donation of the entire contents of the Rikki Swin Institute, which opened in Chicago in 2001, and was donated to UVic in 2007. The Rikki Swin collection includes the personal papers of Virginia Prince, one of the founders of transgender activism; 20 years of history of Fantasia Fair, the longest-running transgender convention (38 years this October); key documents from activist Ari Kane; and papers from the founders of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), Merissa Sherrill Lynn and Betty Ann Lind.

Other major collections include the personal papers of transgender pioneer, philanthropist, and activist Reed Erickson, founder of the Erickson Educational Foundation; and the entire University of Ulster Transgender Archives, chronicling more than 25 years of UK trans history and activism, which is on its way to UVic right now. There are also many smaller collections already in the Archives, and several more massive and historically significant collections that have been promised but can't yet be publicly named. The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria is open to the public, and content is being put online, as funds allow. I'm honored to have been asked to bequeath my personal papers to the archives. (If you have your own collections stashed away, they'd love to hear from you. You can reach Aaron Devor at ahdevor@uvic.ca.)

Now Devor wants to take it all to another level. He has plans in the works to use the Transgender Archives as a foundational cornerstone for building a much bigger project: the world's first comprehensively interdisciplinary Transgender Research Center.

Thanks to some really excellent research by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, the TransPulse Project and a small army of dedicated researchers, advocates are now beginning to understand just how large a toll transphobia takes on the lives of trans people everywhere. All of our work will be expedited if we have reliable information, rigorously obtained by respected researchers, that we can use in our change work at all levels of society.

The Transgender Research Center plans to encompass the broadest possible perspectives on trans studies, in a rather breathtaking vision. It would bring together some of the world's best researchers and scholars, along with advanced students, trans community thought leaders, and our allies, to forge new understandings and approaches to advancing the rights of trans people to full respect and support. Inspired scholars and effective activists would work together from every perspective.

Legal scholars might be working on human rights questions. Neuroscientists might be looking to understand how the brains of trans people compare with those of everyone else. Educators could be figuring out how to make schools trans-friendly. Historians would study our past so that we need not repeat our failures, and so that we can learn from our successes. Sociological research could help us make social changes happen in positive ways. Social workers might figure out how to best support trans people and their loved ones. Physicians and psychologists would work out better ways to provide for the needs of trans people. Businesspeople and economists could identify the powers of the trans marketplace. Cultural experts could learn how to improve representations of trans people in the media. And when all these people are together in one physical location, creativity will develop the way it does when young entrepreneurs congregate in Silicon Valley or along Route 128.

In addition to providing a think tank for scholars and an incubator for social change agents, Devor envisions the Center sponsoring public lectures, podcasts, video broadcasts, film festivals, books, print and Web publications, Webinars, short courses, seminars and conferences, scholarships, and a speakers bureau. Scholars would also take their new knowledge with them into their classrooms to add more trans content to all their courses, and to create new trans-focused courses and degree programs.

The University of Victoria has already made a big commitment to transgender studies in its ongoing support of the Transgender Archives, and it seems eager to become the home to the world's first comprehensively interdisciplinary Transgender Research Center. To make Devor's vision a reality requires the creations of a minimum of two endowed chairs in transgender studies, and an endowment to allow the Center to hire a small number of core staff and support some basic programming expenses. Devor is now looking to meet with one or more individuals who want to make a significant difference in bringing trans people closer to justice and equality by endowing the world's first comprehensively interdisciplinary Transgender Research Center.

I know Aaron Devor personally and have watched him in action over much of his 30-year career in transgender research and activism. He has the integrity, international standing, and savvy to make this happen. If you are one of those people who have the capacity to partner with Aaron to make this happen, I urge you to step forward to make this a part of your lasting legacy of making the world a better place for transgender people.