When We Rise: My Life In The Movement by Cleve Jones is due late November from Hachette Books.
The title suggests the mythical bird reborn from the ashes and the forthcoming memoir definitely reflects that.
Its author, Cleve Jones, first came to San Francisco from Arizona in 1972, the year I returned to the city from the East Coast. We met in the early 70s and I remember attending a party he and his roommate, Eric Garbor, hosted when we lived half a block from one another on Castro Street.
He’s long been a highly visible member of the community and a prominent activist for over four decades.
The book traces the trajectory of his life beginning with a low point. His experiences at school were so hellish that he was considering suicide during his early teens. He overcame despair after he began working for social change and discovered he was not alone in the world.
Cleve was especially active during the bleakest period of the AIDS-HIV pandemic. He was the founder of the Names Project that created a public memorial for thousands of individuals who died of the disease. The ever-growing quilt was displayed widely both in the US and beyond, helping to mobilize government agencies to fund studies and speed up treatment options.
The movement for social justice not only gave meaning to his life but also provided him with employment over the years. He worked in politics and is presently engaged in labor advocacy.
He was mentored by Harvey Milk and encouraged the development and eventual production of Milk, the narrative film about Harvey directed by Gus Van Sant in 2008.
Earlier this year Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter of Milk, teamed up again with Van Sant to produce an ABC miniseries partly inspired by the manuscript of When We Rise.
The memoir allowed me to fill in some of the details of Cleve’s life story and will undoubtedly inspire present and future generations of women and men to positive action.
copyright © 2016 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved.
I marched in New York in 1970 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion. My friend Elliot and his partner David hosted a brunch in their apartment in the Village beforehand and a small group of us got stoned before joining that initial march. Yet despite the good feelings I was somewhat apprehensive because the previous night four members of the Gay Liberation Front were attacked on the street.
Five thousand marchers participated that first year and we thought that with sufficient publicity we might be able to double the size the following year. Seven years later there were a quarter of a million in the San Francisco Pride Parade. I was astounded by the rapid growth of the movement over such a short period of time.
I knew people on both coasts and felt connected during those early years. I celebrated with friends, lovers, neighbors. People came and went. Political battles were won and lost. The most heartbreaking and frightening time was during the peak of the AIDS-HIV pandemic. Hundreds suffered and perished, especially in major cities such as New York, San Francisco, and Paris. Among them were men much younger than me I thought I would grow old with.
As the years passed I found myself surrounded by strangers as increasing numbers of young people came to San Francisco to celebrate their new sense of sexual freedom with rainbows and balloons. And for at least a couple of years I stayed home rather than face the crowds and noise filling the city the final Sunday in June.
I returned only when I was sure I’d be with friends again. Ignoring the main event to attend somewhat smaller gatherings such as the party in City Hall, the annual celebration in Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s office, Freedom Faerie Village where I was sure to see a lot of people I knew, or one of the after-parties in other parts of the city.
San Francisco Pride is now the biggest party of the year drawing thousands of people of all ages, races, and sexual persuasions. On my way home I boarded the Metro with four, young, straight couples. Each clearly signaled the nature of their relationship.
How’s it going? the man closest to me said to indicate his goodwill. Perhaps, self-conscious of his blatant heterosexual behavior. Like your belt! he then remarked after noticing the rainbow pattern. A gesture of peace and solidarity. An acknowledgement that he was an appreciative guest at our huge celebration.
image & text copyright © 2016 by N. A. Diaman, all rights reserved