Queer Peel Oral History Project!

oral history / public humanities / trans history
trans musician Rachel Mesic shared her story with Lucas Blower, interviewer (Feb 2020)

trans musician Rachel Mesic shared her story with Lucas Blower, interviewer (Feb 2020)

What’s it like to be LGBTQ2+ in Canadian suburbs and edge cities? We’ve next to no primary sources about queer and trans life in Canada’s ‘burbs and edge cities, so my students and I decided to create some.

This spring, students in my 3rd year history course at the University of Toronto, Mississauga conducted 25 oral histories with LGBTQ2+ activists, students, alums, and residents of the Peel region in the Greater Toronto Area. Our goal was to begin the process of documenting this history so that we can learn more about queer and trans history and place through an intersectional lens.

Student groups streamlined their research to cover five sub-groups: OUT @ UTM, Positive Space Committee, being queer on the web, being queer in Peel, and LGBTQ2+ alumni at UTM. As a part of their course work, each student interviewed a narrator, archived the interview they conducted, and curated an Omeka digital exhibition showcasing the interviews, relevant news articles, and other visuals to contextualize LGBTQ2+ lives in Peel Region. The Omeka exhibition is now live, and it is available here: https://omeka.utm.utoronto.ca/s/queerpeel/page/intro.

I had a lot of help making this class a success. Thank you especially to all the fabulous narrators, research assistants Mia Colavito and Luke Drummond; Dr. Joan Simalchik; librarians Yayo Umetsubo, Chris Young, and Simone Laughton; SRA Elizabeth Parke; and AV wizard Robert Martins. Blake Eligh wrote a wonderful article about the class as, “Queer in the Suburbs: Hidden Histories of Peel Region,” UTM News, March 9, 2020, which was republished in the Mississauga News and the Brampton Guardian (thank you!).

A special thanks is due to Anu Radha Verma, a community activist and artist, who helped guide students through the complexities and nuance of varied queer and QTBIPOC experiences in Peel Region.

All interviews and other materials from the project will be donated to The ArQuives (https://arquives.ca/), Canada’s largest LGBTQ2+ archives, as well as the UTM Archives.

Updates from the Trans Oral History Project: Dallas Denny


Our Trans Oral History Project is underway, led by Post-Doctoral fellow Dr. Evan Taylor and partnered with the University of Victoria’s Transgender Archives. As they collect oral history interviews with trans elders about their history of activism on behalf of trans people and communities, Dr. Taylor will be passing on some updates to keep you in the loop about this exciting project!

DallasDenny_Screenshot_17.05Our Trans Oral History project just recorded an oral history interview with legendary trans activist Dallas Denny, talking about her many achievements and contributions to trans history. We talked about old times and hotlines, the changing landscapes of language, and future transition pathways for trans people. Thanks, Dallas!​

Updates from the Trans Oral History Project: Jude Patton


Our Trans Oral History Project is underway, led by Post-Doctoral fellow Dr. Evan Taylor and partnered with the University of Victoria’s Transgender Archives. As they collect oral history interviews with trans elders about their history of activism on behalf of trans people and communities, Dr. Taylor will be passing on some updates to keep you in the loop about this exciting project!

Jude Patton Screenshot (1)

We recently recorded a trans oral history interview with Jude Patton – a true trans hero! Jude caught us up on everything from his work in the 80’s with J2CP Information Services, to his work with WPATH, and also some fascinating insights from his personal life and experiences in trans communities. Thanks, Jude!


Meet Our Collaborating Scholars: Dr. Aaron Devor


As the Collaboratory works to connect LGBTQ digital histories projects across Canada and the U.S., our Collaborators share resources and expertise, and develop new methods in conversation. We invite you to meet our collaborating scholars – read on to learn more about some of the incredible work they have underway. 

2018-OCT-Credit-Dan-McKeon_profileDr. Aaron Devor, (PhD, FSSS, FSTLHE), is the Founder and Academic Director of The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria, the Founder and Inaugural  Chair in Transgender Studies, the Founder and Host of the Moving Trans History Forward conferences, and a Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Victoria. 

 Let’s start with your name, pronouns, and honorific.
 Dr. Aaron Devor. He/Him

We’ve heard that aspects of the Transgender Archives are soon to be digitized! What prompted that decision? Which materials will you focus on first, and why?
Access to our collections is a high priority for the Transgender Archives. Putting our collection up online makes them available to people who are unable to visit. We are attempting to prioritize the digitization of our most requested items. A number of important periodicals held by the Transgender Archives have already been digitized and are being posted online as they become available: e.g., Transvestia, FTMI Newsletter, EEF Newsletter. We have also digitized many documents from Fantasia Fair, the longest running gathering of Trans People in the Western world (since 1975) and many, many other documents. We currently have about 800 items posted on the Digital Transgender Archives and we have recently launched a new discovery tool at https://www.uvic.ca/transgenderarchives/discovery-tool/index.php that has links to both our hard copy and digital collections.

 What challenges have you faced in digitizing the TGA’s contents? How have you responded to them?
Our biggest challenges have been prioritizing what should go up online first and finding enough staff time to get the scanning done. As I mentioned above, we’re trying to respond to user requests and prioritize the most requested items. Staffing time will continue to be a challenge.

 What position does community and community engagement play in the work of the Transgender Archive?
Many brave souls created our trans communities. Everything we have in the Transgender Archives was created by our communities. There would be nothing to archive without the work of community. We would not have a Transgender Archives without the generous contributions of members of the trans community. All but less than one metre of our 160 metres of materials have been donated to us by community members who have the foresight and wherewithal to collect and retain records of our history before donating them to us.

The whole point of having Archives is so that people will use them to access our history. We welcome the public into our archives. We are a public institution and the archives belong to them. There is no charge to use our archives and no membership of any kind is required. The Chair in Transgender Studies serves as the Academic Director of the Transgender Archives, and the Chair in Transgender Studies offers fellowships to help with the expense for both university- and community-based scholars to visit the Transgender Archives.



Meet Our Collaborating Scholars: Professor Elise Chenier


As the Collaboratory works to connect LGBTQ digital histories projects across Canada and the U.S., our Collaborators share resources and expertise, and develop new methods in conversation. We invite you to meet our collaborating scholars – read on to learn more about some of the incredible work they have underway. 

Elise ChenierProfessor Elise Chenier is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Simon Fraser University, where she teaches courses in the history of sexuality, oral history, and Canadian social history. Her research projects focus on aspects of sexuality and gender in twentieth century Canada and the United States, as explored in her 2008 book Strangers In Our Midst: Sexual Deviancy in Postwar Ontario. She is the founder and director of the Archives of Lesbian Oral History (A LOT), an online archive of digital oral history. You can keep up with ALOT on Facebook, Twitter, and on their Blog


Let’s start with your name, pronouns, and honorific.
Professor Elise Chenier, her/she

 What challenges resulted in the creation of the “Bridging the Gap” project?
Our objective was to make the archives truly community-based by inviting people to produce their own oral history interviews and upload them to the site. If you know StoryCorps in the United States, that will give you an idea of what I had in mind. We developed a social media strategy to let people know about what we were doing, and created some instructional videos including a live ‘how-to’ workshop that is stored on our FaceBook page. While we generated a good amount of interest, we had very few submissions. I have come to think that doing an interview is one of those things that sounds like a great idea, but something people don’t always get around to doing. I have also come to the conclusion that most people need a lot more support than one can provide online.

How have you approached incorporating the testimonies of “Two Spirit, queer,  [and] bisexual…women, transmen, and others” into ALOT?
As an archive, we do not go out and produce interviews. We are a repository for other peoples’ interviews. However, we did produce a podcast. Our first episode (after the introduction to the podcast) was with Ma-Nee Chacaby who had just published her autobiography, A Two-Spirit Journey: The Autobiography of a Lesbian Ojibwa-Cree Elder. 

This was intentional. First, it was intended to recognize that these lands were first occupied by indigenous people, and that is where we should begin, and it is from that point of departure that our work should proceed. Secondly, I wanted to signal very clearly to our listeners that non-white people are not an add-on to the white norm. I wanted to centre her voice, her experience. Secondly, we live at a time when many young people associate “lesbian” with trans-exclusionary radical feminism. This is really frustrating for those of us who are over the age of 40 whose politics could not be further from TERFism. Anyhow, for this reason we constantly signal that we are trans-inclusive.

Our overall strategy is this: if people think their stories belong in the Archives of Lesbian Oral Testimony, we welcome them. This includes people who are female and no longer identify as lesbian, women who identify as bisexual, people who transitioned and are now male, or who transitioned and are now lesbian. Our objective is to provide a repository of testimony about lesbian experience. If you have some, we welcome your story.

Can you discuss your podcasts? How has the project gone? What would you have done differently if you knew then what you know now?
The podcast project was the most unexpected and wonderful outcome of this project. I had an application from Callie Hitchcock for the social media manager position, and I hired someone else, but was so impressed with her CV that I wondered what role she might play. That’s how the idea of the podcast came about. I had a very clear vision of how it would work: we would interview oral historians about their favourite clip from an interview with a lesbian, and ask them why it was a favourite, and also to share tips with listeners. The hope was that we would inspire and empower listeners to conduct their own interviews. Callie, who had no previous experience as an oral historian and who I found out later was only just coming out herself, ran with it, and what an amazing job she did! She really loved this project, and it shows.

What I love most about it is that it is very, very smart, but always completely accessible. The tone is very conversational, intimate, and authentic. I only wish that we could get more people listening!

A lot of collaborative models are emerging to connect oral histories and archives. Are there specific approaches/groups/communities/projects that you find especially compelling when it comes to collaboration?

Ironically, in the last year of the grant I have shifted my energy toward working in the local community. I now host a monthly event called Lesbian Lives Live where I interview an older lesbian in a public setting and invite people in attendance to pose their own questions. We make a point of seating people of different ages at tables together (the room set up puts me and the interviewee in the middle, with small tables around us forming a circle). Our hope is not just to share lesbian history, but to also create a space for community-building and intergenerational connection. I have one year left of funding in my grant which allows me to videotape these events. If we carry on beyond the grant, and I hope we do, I’ll simply make audio recordings on my own. I love having the visual to go with the audio, but economically it’s not sustainable in the long term.

It must be said that we are so lucky in Canada to have the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council provide funding for this kind of work. Although my career as an oral historian of the queer past has not always been appreciated by the scholarly community, I have always had grant funding to support what I do. Given what’s happening south of the border, I cannot say enough about how essential it has been to enabling queer scholarly research, which in turn supports our teaching.

Meet Our Collaborating Scholars: Dr. KJ Rawson


As the Collaboratory works to connect LGBTQ digital histories projects across Canada and the U.S., our Collaborators share resources and expertise, and develop new methods in conversation. We invite you to meet our collaborating scholars – read on to learn more about some of the incredible work they have underway. 

KJDr. KJ Rawson (he/him/his) is an Associate Professor in the English Department at the College of the Holy Cross, and Director of the Digital Transgender Archive – a collaborative online hub of transgender history, including digitized historical materials, born-digital materials, and information on archival holdings throughout the world. His scholarship is at the intersections of rhetoric, LGBT studies, digital media, and feminist and queer theory. Keep up with the Digital Transgender Archive on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram, and learn more about KJ at kjrawson.net.


Let’s start with your name, pronouns, and honorific.
Dr. K.J. Rawson (he/him/his)

I’d love to know a bit about your thoughts on transgender archiving, as “both separate from and in conjunction with queer archiving.” What has your work taught you about the benefits of both approaches? 

LGBTQ+ archival collections are rich treasure troves of materials and they are an excellent place to find transgender historical materials. The same is true for non-LGBTQ+ specific collections––university-based special collections, for example––where transgender history can be found in surprising amounts. I have also been quite interested by trans-specific archival initiatives that devote time and resources to trans materials in particular. Each context provides a rich environment for doing historical research in this area.

What are the challenges you’ve faced or observed working in conjunction with queer archiving and archives?

It can often be challenging to work with historical figures whose identities we don’t or can’t know given the differences in historical context and shifting understandings about gender and sexuality. My experience has been that archivists and researchers are quite well intentioned, but there are times when it’s genuinely unclear how to best describe or understand historical figures and practices of gender.

A lot of collaborative models are emerging to connect oral histories and archives. Are there specific approaches/groups/communities/projects that you find especially compelling when it comes to collaboration?

To me, the most exciting thing about all of the trans oral history initiatives is the sheer quantity of them. We have a difficult time keeping up with all of the interviews that become available through all of our partners and we are always rushing to link out to them to make them more widely accessible.

What position does community and community engagement play in the work of the DTA?

The work of the project is constantly in conversation with community—from the students who work in our lab, to our advisory board, to content creators for the site, and all of our contributing archives. We are in contact with an even broader community through our social media channels, through presentations, and at various events that we attend throughout the world. One of the best parts of this work is getting feedback from people who are using and appreciating the site.

What are you interested in learning next?

Personally, I have been spending a lot of time working on the Homosaurus. The Homosaurus is an International LGBT Linked Data Vocabulary and I co-chair the editorial board for the project. It’s been a great way to develop and improve a resource to make LGBTQ+ materials more discoverable in archives and libraries.


Welcome to the Team: Elizabeth Holliday


Hi there folx! My name is Elizabeth Holliday (they/them/Mx.), and I’m a new Research Assistant with Dr. Brown in the Collaboratory. My duties include a whole variety of things, including posting on this website, which is why you’re getting an introduction to me straight from me. Read on to learn a little about me, and I’ll catch you on our social medias!

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Photo by Avery Holliday

Born and raised on Sḵwx̱wú7mesh territory in British Columbia, I moved to Tkaranto just a few months ago to start my Masters of Information in Library and Information Sciences at the University of Toronto’s iSchool. I moved to New York at 17 to pursue a Certificate in Integrated Performance (Musical Theatre) at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy, did a year of courses at the New School for Public Engagement, and then moved back to BC to complete a BA in Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice at the University of British Columbia.

Since beginning my undergrad, I have worked in theatre, radio, magazines (print and online), publishing, and book sales, often non-profits, always looking to facilitate community and marginalized access to media and media making. Having fallen in love with libraries at a young age, I decided to take that passion and pursue my MI for work in public libraries. I am deeply passionate about the library’s potential as a resource in low-income and queer communities (which often intersect). One such resource is the development of special collections of local histories, one designed by and for the community of patrons. This is what draws me to the Collaboratory. I am thrilled to learn more about the world of community archives and the barriers and successes of documenting Queer history, in the hopes that I can lend my skills to improving the systems we want to keep, and dismantling those that no longer serve us.

In addition to being an aspiring librarian, I am also a drag and theatre performer (alias Dank Sinatra) – there is some exciting Drag-related work coming down the pipe from the Collaboratory, so keep watching this space!


The Queer Peel Oral History Project: Queer Histories from Edge Cities


Meet our new undergraduate research assistant, Luke Drummond (he/him or they/them), as he introduces you to The Peel Oral History Project! Luke is a fourth year English undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, and is currently working as Dr. Elspeth Brown’s research assistant, helping develop her course on queer oral histories of Peel. Fun fact: Luke is fluent in American Sign Language!

The Queer Peel Oral History Project, conducted by Dr. Elspeth Brown for her 3rd year history Special Topics course at the University of Toronto, Mississauga, will document the histories of LGBTQ+ individuals in the Peel region (comprised of Mississauga, Brampton, and Caledon). Documenting the histories of queer, trans, non-binary and other LGBTQ2S+ people in the Peel area is important because Peel is both an edge city and a suburb. Queer oral histories from both suburbia and edge cities are noticeably absent in both queer archives and in academic histories and documentation. This absence is particularly true of queer folks in a Canadian context, where documentation of queer histories and experiences are usually centered around the larger cities of Vancouver and Toronto. While the city of Toronto, about an hour from the Peel region, has a well-documented queer history and culture, the queer histories and present-day experiences of queer people in the surrounding edge cities have yet to be documented and archived. The Queer Peel Oral History Project will seek to address this gap.

Gathering these narrators’ histories allows us to explore and document the ways in which the experiences of queer folks in edge cities differ from those in larger cities, particularly those with established queer communities. Specifically, the Peel Oral History Project asks, how do queer folk find each other, spread information, and collectivize when queer culture is not established or centralized in the same way it is in large cities?

Through interviews conducted by Dr. Brown’s students as part of their coursework, this project will ask Peel queers (and other LGBT2S+ people) to recount their histories of finding queer people, places, and things in their area. Interviews with our narrators will take place between January and late March, 2020, and will be archived afterwards at The ArQuives: Canada’s LGBTQ2S+ Archives, the largest and oldest community-based queer archive in the world. If you are someone who has lived in Peel for at least 1 year, are over age 18, identify as LGBTQ2s+, and are interested in contributing your story, please contact elspeth.brown@utoronto.ca.

Welcome to the Team: Dr. Evan T. Taylor


We’re excited to announce the addition of a new member of our team – Dr. Evan Taylor! Our new Post-Doctoral Fellow in Trans Oral History, Evan holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Social Work, and a PhD from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Language and Literacy Education.Evan’s considerable experience has found them working at the intersections of LGBTQ+ identity, Trans(gender) literacy, health literacy, and culturally appropriate access to public institutions and citizenship for marginalized populations. Read on to learn more about Evan and their work with the Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria!

2ed64541Name, Pronouns, and any other identifiers you’d like to share.
Evan T. Taylor. None, or They/Them

You have an extensive academic and work background in the intersections of LGBTQ+ Identity and Healthcare. How have archives shown up in your previous work?
The previous project I worked with as a researcher was the Cancer’s Margins project – which was Canada’s first nationally-funded project to investigate the intersections of breast and gynecologic cancers with both sexual and gender marginality – and part of the project was to develop the first online archive of queer cancer stories. www.lgbtcancer.ca 

Elevator Pitch time – what’s your position with the Collaboratory?
My post-doctoral fellowship is a joint fellowship that partners the University of Victoria’s Transgender Archives and the University of Toronto’s LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory. We are collecting oral history interviews with trans elders about their history of activism on behalf of trans people and communities in order to establish trans-specific and trans-positive primary source historical narratives that can be preserved for future generations. 

You’ll be working primarily with the Transgender Archives at University of Victoria – can you tell us a little bit about that archive?
For this one, I’ll refer you to the website, which says it all quite succinctly (https://www.uvic.ca/transgenderarchives/collections/index.php). 

“University of Victoria Libraries is home to the largest Transgender Archives in the world. We preserve original documents recording the history of pioneering activists, community leaders, and researchers who have contributed to the betterment of trans, non-binary, and Two-Spirit people. Our records span over 160 meters or 530 linear feet (1.5 football fields long), go back over 120 years, and are in 15 languages from 23 countries on six continents. We are accessible to everyone, free of charge.”

What are you excited to bring to the Collaboratory?
I think we are living in exciting times of increasing trans visibility and community. But, with that being said, visibility doesn’t come without risk surrounding the production of marginalized populations. And one of those risks is that history will forget those who fought to create that visibility and safety. So, I think there is great value in documenting the history of trans activism to both honour those who have sacrificed so much to build and mobilize trans communities, and to preserve the history of social activism. 

What are you excited to learn from the Collaboratory?
I’m really excited to learn about how generations of trans people before me found each other and created community activism [before the internet]. I’m really most excited to learn about the history of trans activism – from the people who were actually doing it!


We’ll be posting regular updates on Evan’s work here and on our social media over the next few months. Find us at @lgbtqhistory on Twitter and join the LGBTQ Oral History and Digital Archives Collaboratory Facebook Group!

Trans Oral History Post-Doc! (6 months)

oral history / trans history

Post-doctoral Fellowship in Trans Oral History

The LGBTQ Oral History Digital Collaboratory (University of Toronto, ON), in collaboration with The Transgender Archives at the University of Victoria (Victoria, BC) will award one six-month Postdoctoral Fellowship. The fellowship is to be taken up, and concluded, between 1 June 2019 and 30 March 2020 (exact starting and ending dates to be negotiated within this time frame). The Fellow will be expected to coordinate and conduct oral histories with trans people who have been trans activists in the U.S. and Canada. Co-supervisors will be Dr. Aaron Devor (University of Victoria) and Dr. Elspeth Brown (UniversiScreen Shot 2019-01-25 at 8.30.01 PMty of Toronto). Our preference is that the Fellow will be based in Victoria but we may consider other possibilities. Priority consideration shall be given to candidates with a Ph.D. received between July 1, 2016 and June 1, 2019.

The successful candidate will have a proven track record in the area of trans studies, historical studies, and qualitative interviewing. Lived experience in trans or non-binary communities, or as a trans or non-binary activist, would be an asset.

The six-month fellowship includes a salary of $30,000 CAD and enrollment in the University of Toronto employee benefits program.

All qualified candidates are invited to apply online by sending the application materials to historical.studies@utoronto.ca by 31 March 2019. Applicants must submit a cover letter, a current curriculum vitae, a 1-2 page research statement outlining current and future research interests, a sample of scholarly writing not to exceed 30 single-spaced pages, and contact information for three referees. Please send with the following in the subject line of the email: Trans Oral History Postdoc.

We recommend combining attached documents into one or two files in PDF or MS Word format. If you have any questions about this position, please contact Dr. Elspeth Brown (Elspeth.brown@utoronto.ca) and/or Dr. Aaron Devor (ahdevor@uvic.ca).

All application materials will be accepted until the closing date of 31 March 2019, or until the position is filled.

The University of Toronto is strongly committed to diversity within its community and especially welcomes applications from racialized persons /persons of colour, women, Indigenous / Aboriginal People of North America, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ persons, and others who may contribute to the further diversification of ideas.

The University of Victoria is committed to upholding the values of equity, diversity, and inclusion in our living, learning and work environments. In pursuit of our values, we seek members who will work respectfully and constructively with differences and across levels of power. We actively encourage applications from members of groups experiencing barriers to equity. Read our full equity statement here: www.uvic.ca/equitystatement.

All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadians and permanent residents will be given priority.