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David Garvin, 1963–2013

A gifted vocalist and key supporter of Toronto's early gay rights movement

David Garvin died on Aug 8.

David Garvin — educator, entrepreneur and one of Toronto’s earliest and most vocal gay activists — passed away after a difficult battle with hemochromatosis, on Aug 8.

Born in Taiwan in 1963 to a Presbyterian minister and a missionary, Garvin spent his early life closely associated with the church. A gifted vocalist, his parents encouraged him to perform, leading to a brief period as part of a Taiwanese opera.

In 1976, his family relocated to the former village of Weston, on the border of Old Toronto. After completing his education, Garvin found work in tailoring but soon became interested in the esthetics industry. He opened the Nails by David salon, which eventually became the popular Spa at David’s.

As a young man, Garvin was a key supporter of Toronto’s burgeoning gay rights movement and sat on some of Pride Toronto’s earliest committees. Perhaps most famously, he chained himself to the legislature alongside Reverend Brent Hawkes during the “Operation Soap” bathhouse raids of 1981.

Friends remember Garvin as a colourful character who was open about his sexuality at a time when that was not so easy.

“David and I were friends through Gay Youth Toronto in the very early ’80s, and he probably never knew it, but his courage in embracing his gay identity in small-town Weston and his exuberant sense of humour and fun made it easier for me to come out,” says Gillian Rodgerson.

“I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to know the good man he clearly became, but I am glad I knew the funny, smart, brave boy in the bright pink shirt.”

A long-time parishioner at the Metropolitan Community Church, Garvin later adopted Shokugeki Buddhism and was very active within his faith, eventually helping to found a LGBT Pride group within the SGI Buddhist community.

Virginia Adamson, who worked with Garvin in the Buddhist community, remembers him as a “wonderful combination of courage, authenticity, spiritual depth and humour that many people loved and appreciated.”

In 2005, Garvin returned to Taiwan (described as his “place of peace”) to teach English at the Kojen English School and remained there until health issues forced him to return to Canada in February 2013.

Garvin is survived by his mother, Mary Helen Garvin, and his siblings Anne, Ruth, Michael and Peter. The Metropolitan Community Church will hold an interfaith memorial for Garvin on Saturday, Sept 7 at 2pm. In lieu of flowers, Garvin’s family has asked that gifts be made in memory of Garvin to the organ transplant program at the University Hospital Network in Toronto.