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Who is Cleve Jones, activist who helped inspire ABC miniseries When We Rise?

AIDS and LGBTQ activist Cleve Jones, whose story features in When We Rise. Pic: www.clevejones.com

Tonight is the premiere of When We Rise, ABC’s miniseries charting the lives and experiences of a group of LBGT men and women who helped to pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement.

The show centers on the modern gay rights movement and begins with the Stonewall riots of 1969. One of the main characters in the series is Cleve Jones, with Austin P. McKenzie playing him as a young man and Guy Pearce playing him in his later years.

But who exactly is Jones?

Born in West Lafayette, Indiana, in October 1954, Jones is a noted LGBTQ rights campaigner and activist.

His career began in 1970s San Francisco when he became friends with Harvey Milk, the well-known gay-rights leader whose story formed the basis for 2008 Sean Penn movie Milk.

Jones combined his study of political science at San Francisco State University with work as an intern in Milk’s office.

In the early 1980s, Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and came up with the idea for the AIDS Memorial Quilt at a memorial for Milk in 1985. The AIDS Memorial Quilt has grown over the years and is now the biggest community arts project in the world.

Jones himself is HIV positive and has been since the late 1970s. He was a part of the early drug trials and has described the rapid effect the treatment had on his condition.

Working tirelessly to help the LGBTQ community, Jones is also heavily involved in the Sleep With the Right People campaign, which asks LGBTQ tourists to only choose hotels that respect their employees’ rights.

Appearing on marches and in documentaries is part and parcel of Jones’ activism, and he led the National March for Equality in 2009. In November 2016 he published a book about his experiences called When We Rise: My Life in the Movement.

Undoubtedly a huge part of the gay rights movement in America, Cleve Jones remains one of the most forthright campaigners for the LGBTQ community.


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