3 min

A fitting first tribute to an irrepressible mentor

Jim Deva’s final pitch for sexual freedom resonated at our town hall

In what no one expected to be his last public speech, Little Sister’s co-owner and community leader Jim Deva was in fine form Sept 9, as he called for healthy sexual leadership at Xtra’s town hall.

Do I wanna go out with a lion’s roar?
Huh, yeah, I wanna go south ’n
get me some more . . .
She bop, he bop, a-we bop
I bop, you bop, a-they bop
Be bop, be bop, a-lu she bop

Thirty years after Cyndi Lauper publicly celebrated masturbation (albeit disguised under a catchy tune), Little Sister’s co-owner Jim Deva took up the call at Xtra’s Sept 9 town hall on the politics of being too queer for public life.

“Masturbation is a really healthy thing to talk about,” he said (in the video above). “Society would be a lot better and a lot more healthy if it actually talked about sexual issues. You know, we as queer people have been doing this for a long time. And this is one of the things that we have to take on: we have to be sexually honest with each other and with society. It’s extremely important for the sake of all society.”

Deva was responding to Trish Kelly’s short-lived run for the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. Despite signing up lots of supporters and handily winning her party’s nomination in June, Kelly withdrew from the electoral race less than a month later when some of her sex-positive art was splashed across a local blog, arguably with the intent to shame her. Kelly wasn’t ashamed, but Vision Vancouver dumped her.

Don’t get me wrong: I like Vision. I’m a fan of the many gay- and trans-friendly policies the party has implemented this term, and I understand its reluctance to stake its reelection chances on the comfort levels of a sexually immature society. But I was still disappointed with its cautious calculation to cut Kelly and distance itself from any discussion of sexual honesty.

“I think it was a really gutless and stupid decision that somebody made that somehow Trish was not going to be a viable candidate in the city of Vancouver,” Deva said bluntly, suggesting that Vision not only misstepped but miscalculated voter comfort levels. “This is not Aldergrove; this is Vancouver.”

Aldergrove’s alleged puritanism aside, other political observers have echoed Deva’s assessment of overly cautious gatekeeping. “We’ve gotten rid of the candidates that infuriate. We’ve also gotten rid of the candidates who inspire,” Michael Geoghegan says. “Whenever we do something that greatly restricts our pool of available talent, we end up with more mediocre results.”

The parks board pool would certainly be richer if Kelly, an outspoken, intelligent queer woman with city committee experience, were still in the running.

“I believe that as a community, we are inherently sex-positive,” she told the town hall. “I’m queer and I’m political and I’m not afraid of my sexuality. That’s the essence of what queerness is.”

Words that would make Deva’s heart soar.

Ironically, I wrote this column a week before his sudden death left me and countless others in our community reeling. I was going to scrap it to write a “proper” tribute to the man who has, more than anyone, helped shape our community. But I could practically hear him object.

Miss Perelle,” he’d probably say, because that’s how he liked to greet me, with more than a hint of mischievous glee. “What better tribute than a final pitch for sexual freedom?”

I know it fits, Jim, but there’s so much I want to add. Your courage, your commitment, your countless contributions, your cranky sense of humour. As we go to press tonight, I’m already planning our next issue: a special, full tribute to an inimitable mentor. 

This is only the first of many tributes to come, fitting though it may be. Because we all have so many stories to share of a man who dedicated his life to our freedom to share them.