Jim Deva, co-owner of Little Sister’s bookstore, champion of free speech and LGBTQ rights, was remembered Saturday at St. Andrews Wesley United Church downtown. Jim died unexpectedly from a ladder fall September 21st
The church was packed with over one thousand people and a Vancouver Police honour guard. Among the speakers was Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Why were so many people there? Why so many business owners, activists, politicians, police, musicians, and folks not just from Vancouver but from all over? Police honour guard?
Jim didn’t just build a business, he built community.
Jim started Little Sister’s Gay and Lesbian bookstore with his partner Bruce in 1983. The store quickly became not just a business but also the community centre for Vancouver’s LGBTQ community and provided mail order service for folks beyond the lower mainland.
Canada Customs started to seize books for the store (even ones they allowed to go to other bookstores in Vancouver) by the mid 1980s. Jim and Bruce took the case to the Supreme Court of Canada twice eventually winning a partial victory against the Canada Customs.
But Jim was also involved in many parts of the community. Tim Stevenson, city councillor, noted in his remarks at the service that there wasn’t a business group, community group, or advisory board in the west end that Jim hadn’t been involved with; groups such as the Davie Street Business Association, the West End Business Improvement Association, the Gay and Lesbian Business Association, the Vancouver City LGBTQ Advisory committee and LOUD Scholarship.
In the last ten years, Jim worked closely with Vancouver Police to improve relations with the LGBTQ community. Because of his efforts, police are more responsive to gaybashing in the city. Police chief Jim Chu sent a written statement read by Councillor Tim Stevenson at the service praising Jim’s work with the police. And Chief Chu sent the honour guard.
All the speakers commented on how Jim welcomed everyone, his impish sense of humour and his strong commitment to community and human rights.
I knew Jim for 30 years and I will miss him in the community and at business networking events where his humour was awesome.