Longtime activist Cleve Jones has dedicated his life to working with members of the LGBTQ community, but growing up he felt like the only gay person in the world. He tells Fresh Air’s Terry Gross that he felt so isolated as a teenager that he considered suicide. Then he read about the gay liberation movement in Life magazine and his outlook changed.
“This magazine, in a matter of minutes, revealed to me that there were other people like me,” Jones says. “There were a lot of us. We were organizing. … There was a community, and there were places we could live safely. And one of those places was called San Francisco.”
Jones moved to San Francisco when he was in his early 20s. There, he found a mentor in Harvey Milk, one of the country’s first openly gay elected officials. He marched alongside Milk for gay rights, and when Milk was assassinated in 1978, Jones decided to dedicate his life to the cause. “Meeting Harvey, seeing his death, it fixed my course,” he says.
After the AIDS epidemic hit San Francisco, Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and started the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Jones describes his life and his involvement in the gay rights movement in his new memoir, When We Rise. He says it’s a story of hardship, but also one of triumph. “I have these memories of great struggle and great pain and great loss, but I also in my lifetime have seen extraordinary progress and amazing change.”