Vancouver LGBT leader Jim Deva dies, leaving a community in mourning

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      One of the most beloved LGBT activists in Vancouver has died after falling from a ladder in his yard.

      Jim Deva, the cofounder of Little Sister's Book and Art Emporium, was 65.

      He's best known for the long and successful fight that he and store manager Janine Fuller waged against Canada Customs censors, who tried to prevent LGBT literature from being brought across the border.

      To those who knew him, his countless acts of kindness, witty sense of humour, and remarkable courage will ensure that he'll remain in the community's heart for many years to come.

      I remember interviewing Deva for our 2007 Best of Vancouver issue. I dropped by his West End store and was greeted by a thoroughly gracious and extremely intelligent former high-school teacher.

      With a smile, he revealed that he ended this career after a student had spotted him in a gay bar called the Gandy Dancer. The kids "worked me over something wicked", he recalled without a hint of exasperation.

      From there, he cofounded the Davie Street bookstore that has served as a community gathering space for more than three decades.

      During that 2007 interview, Deva also told me that he thought Gregor Robertson would be a great mayor. Little had been said up to that point about whether Robertson, then an NDP MLA, would seek the top job.

      I took Deva's endorsement as a sign that Robertson was indeed a serious contender. 

      Today, Robertson issued a statement saying he was "shocked and gravely saddened" to hear of Deva's sudden death.

      "He was an inspiration to Vancouver and all Canadians, and his irrepressible courage and tireless advocacy for equal rights and free expression played an enormous role in shaping the city that Vancouver is today," Robertson said.

      On behalf of his council colleagues and Vancouver citizens, Robertson offered condolences to Deva's partner, Bruce Smyth, and to all of their family and friends.

      "His counsel will be sorely missed by all of us at City Hall, but his legacy will continue to inspire our work together to keep building a safer, prouder, more inclusive, and more equal Vancouver," the mayor said.

      Many aren't aware that Deva helped the Vancouver Police Department become a more LGBT-friendly force.

      After a gay photographer named Aaron Webster was murdered in Stanley Park in 2001, Deva rallied the community to respond.

      He was pleased to see how an inspector at the time, Dave Jones, told the media that the killing had all the earmarks of a hate crime.

      Deva sat in to watch parts of the subsequent trial. And I remember him telling me how happy he was that Jim Chu had become the city's police chief because Deva felt that Chu was a good listener who valued Vancouver's diversity.

      In 2008 when the NPA refused to allow transgender sex-trade activist Jamie Lee Hamilton to run for a park-board nomination, Deva jumped into action, hosting a news conference behind his store to show his support for her.

      Jamie Lee Hamilton knew Jim Deva could be counted on to fight discrimination.
      Charlie Smith

      Deva was good-natured, but he also had a toughness forged by years of facing down those who hated gays, lesbians, and transgender people.

      In addition, he was an early and vociferous advocate for a gathering space for the LGBT community on Davie Street. 

      "What drew us together was discrimination," Deva told the Straight. "Now, it's got to be the social component that keeps us together because we've got to be together in order to be complete."

      Deva was small in stature, but a giant in making Vancouver one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the world.

      As a closeted young gay man growing up in rural Alberta in the 1950s and 1960s, Deva knew exactly what it was like for LGBT kids struggling to come out.

      He may not have stayed long in the school system as a teacher. But he still had an unparalleled career as an educator through his bookstore and through his advocacy for the LGBT community.

      The least that the city can do for this fine citizen is name a building or a park or a street after him. That way, LGBT kids struggling with their sexual orientation and gender identity will have a permanent reminder of his tireless efforts to create a better world for them.

      Comments

      13 Comments

      Forest

      Sep 22, 2014 at 11:58am

      How incredibly sad. He will be sorely missed.

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      Cheryl Leggett

      Sep 22, 2014 at 1:17pm

      Jim was a pleasure to consult/work with over the years. RIP.

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      Heather

      Sep 22, 2014 at 2:48pm

      Agreed about naming a landmark after him. Make it something big.

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      a/s

      Sep 22, 2014 at 4:12pm

      how frustrating that his life was cut short. he sounds like a fantastic fellow. one slight correction, though: aaron webster was murdered in 2001, not 2000.

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      RUK

      Sep 22, 2014 at 4:38pm

      Sad day. Little Sisters took on free speech cases that ultimately have been to the benefit of literary freedom for Canadians. It can't have been too much fun running the gauntlet of discrimination back in the day (or now) but in this city anyway I hope it became a good place to be. RIP.

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      Steve

      Sep 23, 2014 at 7:53am

      I would often see Jim walking his dog in the neighbourhood. He was a kind and humble man. He made his mark on this city. That is a good legacy.

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      D

      Sep 23, 2014 at 8:43am

      He was so nice whenever I went into the store! Rip Jim.

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      David Blue

      Sep 23, 2014 at 10:24am

      My heart is broken. Our community, the city and the world have lost a wonderful man. His legacy shall live on but we shall all miss him beyond words!

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      Kevin

      Sep 23, 2014 at 11:52am

      Little Sister's wasn't just about books. Jim and his partners created a safe space there, especially for young LGBT folks outside of the bars. He was a hero to many of us. Always funny, always told it straight (pardon the pun), and always hard working. We'll miss him dearly. Just to plant a seed: If they make the plaza area at Bute and Davie permanent, what better name than Jim Deva's Plaza! Right in the middle of the community he helped build.

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