The University of Victoria made international headlines when it appointed a chair in transgender studies to its faculty. The school says this position is a first of its kind in the world.

The inaugural position was given to Dr. Aaron Devor, an accomplished academic who in addition to having been the dean of graduate studies, established the Transgender Archives at the university.

“The university has always been very supportive of the work I’ve done,” Devor told adding that he has also received government grants for his work.


But what is the world’s first Chair in Transgender Studies going to do?

“The main goal is to increase our knowledge base about transgender issues and to work to get that information translated into improved laws, policies, and public understanding of transgender issues,” he said.

There is still a lot of improvement to be made, he added, citing an Ontario study that found 57 per cent of trans youth who do not have supportive families have tried to commit suicide in the past year.

“A lot of attention is starting to move to transgender children, what their environment is at home and at school,” Devor said. “There is a lot of work that needs to be done in those areas to make life better and safer.”

Devor says with famous trans people in the media it can be easy to forget the struggles of everyday trans people.

“The vast majority of transgender people are hard working folks who are trying to have a normal life,” Devor, who transitioned at 51, said. “There are a lot more transgender people out there than people think.”

As the Chair in Transgender Studies and an academic who has been researching trans issues for over 30 years, Devor says his hope is that transgender people will soon go to schools and live in communities that understand that humans come in all shapes, sizes, and colours.

“Social change is very uneven and we do see people in society today who have good attitudes about all of this and are supportive, and at the same time we have people who are still being murdered for being transgender and we have everything in between.”

Image credit: Brian Sargent