Jim Deva: How Yoda Defeated the Emperor


Note: I wrote a ver­sion of this blog to com­mem­o­rate my friend, Jim Deva, a Van­cou­ver GLBT and anti-censorship activist and co-owner of Lit­tle Sister’s book­store. It was writ­ten for Xtra Van­cou­ver in print and can be found online at daily.xtra.ca.

Jim Deva faced the world with mis­chief writ large. His Yoda face—pointy ears, intense deep-blue eyes and tooth­less smile—conspired with a vis­i­tor: “I know you’ve been up to mis­chief,” his face said. “I like mis­chief, too. Tell me about it.”

You’d share. He’d share. His eyes would get even more intense and a tooth or two would appear.

At his core, Jim was a shit-disturber, the best kind: he always had a pur­pose in stir­ring it up. In eight years at the edi­to­r­ial helm of Xtra Van­cou­ver, I often inter­viewed him. For a while, I fre­quently met for break­fast with Jim and some­times his part­ner, Bruce. We were con­spir­ing a strate­gic com­mu­nity response to the mur­der of pho­tog­ra­pher Aaron Web­ster at the end of a base­ball bat in a gay cruis­ing area.

Jim was deeply affected by Webster’s death and plunged him­self into a multi-dimensional response. It must not be mean­ing­less, he insisted. It was a cat­alyz­ing event that could alter the flow of his­tory in how police, the Crown, and judges deal with the local gay—and extended—community. It’s par­tially achieved.

He wasn’t always strate­gic about an issue, some­times hold­ing his nose and jump­ing in. He was con­fi­dent that he would some­how best any croc­o­diles that might be await­ing him below. He fought big croc­o­diles, the biggest of which was Canada Cus­toms and the Cana­dian government.

Cus­toms dared put Jim’s young book­store at risk and more to the point, con­fis­cated the infor­ma­tion queers need to live safe, full, and diverse lives and cel­e­brate our sex­u­al­ity and cre­ative cul­ture. As detailed else­where, Lit­tle Sister’s won a par­tial court vic­tory over Canada Cus­toms. And in that very pub­lic jour­ney, Jim, Bruce and store man­ager Janine Fuller won over the Cana­dian pub­lic in a way still play­ing out through the con­tentious issues of mar­i­juana laws, pros­ti­tu­tion and gov­ern­ment sur­veil­lance of all citizens.

He plunged equally into other issues, espe­cially those con­nect­ing directly to build­ing a diverse and wel­com­ing West End for gays through­out the region to build com­mu­nity. Jim helped get city hall acknowl­edge­ment of our com­mu­nity under COPE and now Vision. And more, oh so much more than most achieve in a lifetime.

He was often pas­sion­ately con­fronta­tional in meet­ings with power hold­ers. Jim knew from expe­ri­ence that progress on an issue requires begin­ning with vis­i­ble con­tention. You have to push against the sta­tus quo and also the tiny steps that some are pre­pared to set­tle for. Oth­er­wise, the pow­er­ful serve you ju-jubes from a gold plate while eat­ing steak them­selves. Ask for a lot, cre­ate fric­tion and dis­com­fort, set­tle for more than some are pre­pared to accept. Throw in a huge dose of love and good­will. Try to co-opt your adver­saries. Rinse, repeat. That was Jim’s approach and his legacy shows it works.

He loved to argue with friends, too. “Bull­shit, Kirkby,” he’d yell in the midst of light-hearted ban­ter at his store. And go off on a 10-minute rant that con­nected only tan­gen­tially to our orig­i­nal topic. It was a delight to expe­ri­ence. Rarely, he’d con­cede after a big laugh and, yes, with that con­spir­a­to­r­ial look on his face.

Jim’s legacy is a les­son in never set­tling. Fight for it all. From the right to own your own sex­u­al­ity and choose your own read­ing, to your right to a safe and ful­fill­ing life, to your responsibility—and pleasure—in build­ing an amaz­ing and cre­ative com­mu­nity. If we each do that, we will change the world.

To hon­our this five-foot-and-a-bit giant with the con­spir­a­to­r­ial gaze is to pick an issue you care about and fight for it with love in your heart.

Gareth Kirkby is a for­mer edi­tor and pub­lisher for Pink Tri­an­gle Press, pub­lisher of Xtra Vancouver.

Mean­while, please check out my Master’s the­sis and feel free to for­ward and tweet it. Check out media cov­er­age of my the­sis find­ings and the national con­ver­sa­tion it trig­gered. And you can fol­low me on Twit­ter: @garethkirkby

I am a for­mer jour­nal­ist and media man­ager who recently com­pleted my Master’s the­sis for Royal Roads Uni­ver­sity and now work as a com­mu­ni­ca­tion pro­fes­sional. I have been awarded the Jack Web­ster Award of Dis­tinc­tion, among oth­ers, for my report­ing and editing.

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