Cleve Jones reflects on moving life events depicted in 'When We Rise'

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ByCarolyn Tyler KGO logo
Saturday, March 4, 2017
Cleve Jones reflects on moving life events depicted in 'When We Rise'
San Francisco LGBT activist Cleve Jones has lived an extraordinary life full of difficult, uplifting and at times seemingly impossible moments. He reflects on his journey and struggles with ABC7 News after seeing his likeness depicted in "When We Rise."

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The ground-breaking ABC mini-series "When We Rise" is primarily based on the life and times of a Bay Area activist, Cleve Jones. He sat down with ABC7 News exclusively to discuss his incredible life.

RELATED: First openly HIV-positive San Francisco supervisor reflects When We Rise

Jones is as passionate in life as his character is in "When We Rise."

"I think that it is an important story, not just because it is my story, but because it is a story of time and place that mattered," Jones told ABC7 News. "And issues that mattered, and struggles that mattered, even today."

ABC7 News spoke with Jones last week after he watched the mini-series for the first time.

When asked what his emotions were when he saw his likeness on screen Jones replied, "It was quite wrenching, emotionally, to watch."

Jones has a story to tell -- beaten and stabbed multiple ties, he worked for Harvey Milk when he was assassinated. He survived HIV and lost countless friends to AIDS.

"Many of us lost just about everyone," said Jones. "So my closest friends died and then I made new friends, and then they died, and then I made new friends and they died."

Jones handed his story over to Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black four years ago.

He is also the creator of the AIDS memorial quilt. "So as people gathered for the candlelight march to honor Harvey and George, I had stacks of poster board," Jones told ABC7 News. "And then we carried those down to the old federal building at UN plaza and climbed up and covered that gray, stone facade with this patchwork of names -- and that's when I thought of the quilt."

The quilt is the most visible symbol of the death toll from the epidemic -- a memorial of those lost, and a reminder to those like Jones, who survived.

"Those years were so incredibly painful, but for the quilt, I was connected to so many really good, loving people," he said. "And I will always be grateful for that."

Jones lost his lover to suicide. "I can't talk about it," he said.

He has been on the verge of death many times himself. Advances in HIV treatment have kept him healthy and reignited his desire to continue the fight for LGBT equality. He was active in the fight for marriage equality.

Today, Jones works for a local union, fighting for workplace rights in San Francisco. "I love being in our city, even with all its changes, it remains," he said. "It remains a beautiful and magic city, and I feel very, very blessed and very fortunate."

Click here for more of ABC7 News' stories, photos, and video on "When We Rise"