When We Rise

My Life in the Movement


By Cleve Jones

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This sweeping memoir tells the life story of longtime LGBTQ and AIDS activist Cleve Jones in a profoundly moving account from sexually liberated 1970s San Francisco, through the AIDS crisis, and up to his involvement with the marriage equality battle.

Born in 1954, Cleve Jones was among the last generation of gay Americans who grew up wondering if there were others out there like himself. There were. Like thousands of other young people, Jones, nearly penniless, was drawn in the early 1970s to San Francisco, a city electrified by progressive politics and sexual freedom.

Jones found community–in the hotel rooms and ramshackle apartments shared by other young adventurers, in the city's bathhouses and gay bars like The Stud, and in the burgeoning gay district, the Castro, where a New York transplant named Harvey Milk set up a camera shop, began shouting through his bullhorn, and soon became the nation's most outspoken gay elected official. With Milk's encouragement, Jones dove into politics and found his calling in "the movement." When Milk was killed by an assassin's bullet in 1978, Jones took up his mentor's progressive mantle–only to see the arrival of AIDS transform his life once again.

By turns tender and uproarious, When We Rise is Jones' account of his remarkable life. He chronicles the heartbreak of losing countless friends to AIDS, which very nearly killed him, too; his co-founding of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation during the terrifying early years of the epidemic; his conception of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, the largest community art project in history; the bewitching story of 1970s San Francisco and the magnetic spell it cast for thousands of young gay people and other misfits; and the harrowing, sexy, and sometimes hilarious stories of Cleve's passionate relationships with friends and lovers during an era defined by both unprecedented freedom and and violence alike.

When We Rise is not only the story of a hero to the LQBTQ community, but the vibrantly voice memoir of a full and transformative American life.

Lambda Literary Award Winner

The partial inspiration for the ABC television mini-series!

"You could read Cleve Jones's book because you should know about the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights from one of its key participants–maybe heroes–but really, you should read it for pleasure and joy."–Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me



The movement saved my life.

I signed up in '68, when I was 14 years old. Like other young people across the United States, I wanted to do my part to end the war in Vietnam. My family had just moved from Pennsylvania to Arizona and when Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers came to organize the grape pickers, my friends and I knew right away that it was part of the bigger picture and signed up for picket duty and walked in the marches.

It took a while for word of the women's movement to reach us in the Arizona desert but when we heard about it we joined that call, too, circulating petitions for the Equal Rights Amendment and speaking out against rape, sexual harassment, and wage inequity.

It wasn't until 1971 that I learned that part of the movement was especially for people like me. I read about it in the "Year in Review—1971" issue of Life magazine in my high school library while skipping gym class. Gym wasn't a safe place for me; I didn't get beat up much but the threat was always present. I invented a mysterious lung malady to persuade our family physician that I was too ill to attend physical education. Instead, I'd spend the hour in the library reading magazines or pretending to study while trying to remember to cough every few minutes.

So it was that one afternoon I was idly flipping through the pages of Life magazine when the headlines leapt off the page: "Homosexuals in Revolt!" Several pages of text and photographs of the new gay liberation movement followed, including photos of handsome long-haired young men marching with fists in the air through the streets of Greenwich Village, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. I was thrilled and then amazed when I looked closely at one of the photo captions and read that a small group called Gay Liberation Arizona Desert was holding meetings at Arizona State University, the school where both my parents taught and where I would no doubt enroll after I graduated from high school the following year.

I am pretty sure that was the exact moment I stopped planning to kill myself.


Ghost Ranch

I WAS BORN INTO THE LAST GENERATION OF HOMOSEXUAL PEOPLE WHO grew up not knowing if there was anyone else on the entire planet who felt the way that we felt. It was simply never spoken of. There were no rainbow flags, no characters on TV, no elected officials, no messages of compassion from religious leaders, no pride parades, no "It Gets Better," no Glee, no Ellen, no Milk. Certainly no same-sex couples with their kids at the White House Easter egg hunt. Being queer was sick, illegal, and disgusting, and getting caught meant going to prison or a mental institution. Those who were arrested lost everything—careers, families, and often their lives. Special police units hunted us relentlessly in every city and state. There was no good news.

But there were a lot of words, cruel words, hurled on the playground and often followed by fists. They were calling me those words long before I had a clue what they meant. Then one day when I was about 12, one kid kept calling me a homo.

Near tears, I yelled back, "What does that even mean?"

He said, "You're a homosexual and you're going to hell." So I went to my father's library—he was a professor of clinical psychology—and looked it up. I remember vividly the shame of reading that I was sick, psychologically damaged.

By 12 years old I knew that I needed a plan. The only plan I could imagine was to hide, never reveal my secret, and, if discovered, commit suicide.

I graduated from high school, barely, in June 1972 and traveled to Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, for a gathering of Quakers called the Inter-Mountain Friends Fellowship. My mother and I had started attending the Phoenix Friends Meeting a few years earlier. Supposedly some of my father's ancestors had been Quaker, but my artistic but practical mother's main motivation was avoiding conscription. In the early 1970s all young men were required to register for the draft at 18, and thousands were sent against their will every year to fight, kill, and die in Vietnam. It was my worst nightmare: gym class with guns and rednecks in a jungle. Mom knew that Quakers and members of other "peace churches" like the Mennonites and Jehovah's Witnesses were being granted conscientious objector status that kept them out of the war. My family was not religious, but we opposed the war. My paternal grandfather, Papa, was even willing to move us all to Canada rather than see me, his first grandchild, sent to war or forced into exile alone.

As it happened, I loved the Quakers, loved the silence of Meeting for Worship, and loved the principles of simplicity and peace by which they lived. From the Friends I learned the history of nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience in the struggles against war and for peace and social justice. In the Meeting I also found some friends and even a boyfriend of sorts for the last two years of high school.

A few weeks after graduation, I joined some of the Quakers on a VW bus trip. We sang along to Don McLean's "American Pie" and rode across the desert to New Mexico for a few days' retreat at Ghost Ranch near Taos. The land there is magnificent, and I spent hours every day hiking the mesas by myself in between various meetings and discussions, mostly about the war and the civil rights movement.

I met a guy named Mel there. He was older than me, and taught at a college in Logan, Utah. We went on walks together and talked about politics and literature. We shared a love for Hermann Hesse novels and the Moody Blues and talked about books with the excitement that was typical of young people then. One day Mel confessed to me that he was "probably bisexual" and I told him that I "probably" was, too. We exchanged addresses and promised to stay in touch after the conference ended and I returned to my family.

That summer, our family left Arizona and returned to Michigan, where our parents had grown up. We spent every June, July, and August outside a tiny village called Omena where Mom and Dad had purchased a ramshackle old house on a sand dune overlooking a small inlet on Grand Traverse Bay of Lake Michigan.

Mel and I wrote back and forth, and he asked me to join him for a trip to California for Pacific Yearly Meeting, the annual gathering of Quakers on the West Coast. The Yearly Meeting would be held in Moraga, California, which I noted on the map was just east of San Francisco. I'd been dreaming about San Francisco all year.

Somehow I persuaded my parents to let me fly to Denver in the first week of August. Mel met me there, at the old Stapleton Airport, and we drove up to Logan first, then across the deserts and mountains to the green hills of Northern California. We were sleeping together by then, but not talking about it.

Pacific Yearly Meeting took place on the campus of St. Mary's College in Moraga. There were all sorts of gatherings and planning sessions and other meetings, and I spent the first day just wandering around, seeing which of my friends were in attendance and checking out the various workshops posted on the communal bulletin board. A small card caught my eye: "Gay and Lesbian Friends will meet on Saturday afternoon," with a time and room number. My first emotion was fear—fear of taking a step that could not be undone. There were the names of two organizers on the card as well, Gary and Ron. My stomach turned over; I was so frightened and confused I couldn't sleep at all that night.

The following afternoon found me pacing around the building where the meeting was to happen. I must have walked around the damn thing four or five times before getting up the nerve to go inside. And then I walked up and down the hallway trying in vain to catch a glimpse inside the room through the tiny door window.

Eventually I took a deep breath, pushed the door open, and walked through—heart thumping, face flushed.

Somebody laughed.

"We wondered if you were going to show up." More laughter. I looked around the room in amazement. Almost all of my favorite people were there. I cried, and then we all laughed.

Gary Miller and Ron Bentley, the gay Quaker couple who had organized the meeting, lived on 16th Street in San Francisco and were active in an organization called the Council on Religion and the Homosexual as well as the newly formed Alice B. Toklas Memorial Democratic Club. They had invited Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon to speak at the meeting. Del and Phyllis were among the founders of the first national lesbian organization, Daughters of Bilitis, and had just published their groundbreaking book, Lesbian/Woman.

Del and Phyllis spoke mostly about the role of lesbians within the larger feminist movement but also about their efforts to change the hearts and minds of religious people. They inspired me enormously.

Gary and Ron were nice but they seemed much older and not very cool, or maybe they were just on their best behavior. I had hair down to the middle of my back and loved rock and roll and smoking pot. I was pretty sure neither of them smoked. But they lived in San Francisco and I immediately accepted their invitation to visit after Yearly Meeting concluded.

We crossed the Bay Bridge late in the afternoon on a clear day, driving west across the span from Oakland through Treasure Island and into the city. The fog was piled up behind Twin Peaks and beginning to pour down through the hills and valleys and into the densely packed pastel-colored homes dotting the city's eastern neighborhoods.

In the distance to the northwest we could see the Ferry Building, Coit Tower and Russian Hill, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Pacific Ocean beyond. Closer in, the skyscrapers of the financial district rose up on our right; on our left were shipyards, piers, warehouses, and a coffee-roasting plant all crowded crowded together south along the Bay's edge. We rolled down the windows and the cold air smelled of sea and smoke and coffee and fog.

It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

I stayed with Gary and Ron for a few days and tried to explore the city. I found it very confusing. The streets in the eastern half of San Francisco are laid out on two different grids, which meet at an angle at Market Street. Every time I crossed Market I got lost, especially in the fog. Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon encouraged me, and I went with Del to address students at Mission High School, my first—terrifying—experience with public speaking.

There was a club called the Shed on the south side of Market Street between Sanchez and Noe Streets for gay kids who weren't old enough to get into the bars. Developers tore it down a long time ago. It's a gym and shops now, but before it was taken down it housed the headquarters of Harvey Milk's campaign to defeat Proposition 6, the Briggs Initiative. That was in 1978, six years after I first danced to James Brown, T. Rex, and Curtis Mayfield records at the Shed. Mott the Hoople's "All the Young Dudes" always got all the young dudes out on the dance floor, singing along, "Carry the newwws…"

After a week I hitched a ride with some Quakers and other antiwar activists back to Phoenix, with a stop in Seal Beach where we attempted to blockade the Naval Weapons Station. As a child of faculty, I could attend Arizona State University for almost nothing. As a mediocre student who had barely graduated from high school, my options for college were extremely limited. I enrolled, but with little enthusiasm.

I moved into one of the big dorms and struggled through the classes. I couldn't concentrate. Every cute guy walking by, every headline or TV news broadcast from Vietnam or Alabama distracted me. I'd doze in class, daydreaming about sex and revolution.

As early as elementary school I had been a poor student. It perplexed and troubled my parents greatly, coming as we do from families that greatly respect education. But my earliest memories are of hating school.

Before we moved to Phoenix in 1968 we lived on Seneca Drive in Mount Lebanon, a suburb of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It was a clean, safe, and well-kept neighborhood of modest single-family homes, surrounded by other equally pleasant communities. Only white people lived there; the few Negroes (the polite term of the day) we encountered were housekeepers who took the streetcar in from Homewood and the Hill District downtown. Latinos, other than Ricky Ricardo, were almost unknown. Asians were unheard of, existing only in our consciousness as caricatures or cartoons from World War II films.

There was no crime to speak of in Mount Lebanon, no fences between our neighbors' yards and the undeveloped wooded areas with creeks and open meadows where we played that surrounded our homes. As soon as we could walk we were free to wander unsupervised, knowing there was no danger. In the winter, we constructed elaborate igloos and toboggan slides and engaged in raucous snowball warfare. In summer, we built forts in the woods and hunted for snakes and salamanders and other lost little critters that we would take to a buxom older woman next door who was known to all the kids in the neighborhood as Aunt Jane. She was always baking cookies for the kids who showed up at her door with battered birds and rabbits, often rescued at the last minute from the local cats or half flattened by a car. Miraculously, not one of the mangled animals we took to Aunt Jane ever died. She saved them all, every one, and when they were strong she released them into the wild as we slept. "Oh how cute they looked as they scampered away," she would say as we sat on her front stoop eating the cookies warm from her oven.

Divorce was almost unknown at that time and it really did seem as if we were all living in an idyllic, perfect, suburban sort of world. Fathers knew best, and didn't run off. Nobody we knew used drugs or drank to excess. The only gangs were the packs of little boys in Buster Brown suits or Cub Scout uniforms.

And yet, there was anxiety: among the adults, who tried to hide it from their kids; and among the kids, who sensed the grownups' fears and had fears of our own. We rarely locked our doors, but there was fear.

In class, while the teachers droned on, I would doodle mushroom clouds.

In our living room Walter Cronkite spoke through our new black-and-white television of Cuba and missiles and Khrushchev. In school we filed silently down to the basement for mandatory air raid drills. We heard our parents after dinner, as we watched The Man from U.N.C.L.E. on the living room floor, talking about the Berlin Wall and, closer to home, Dr. Martin Luther King. My parents were among a few in our neighborhood who vocally supported the civil rights movement. Most offered no opinions; others sneered or got red in the face and shouted.

I was 8 years old in the fall of 1962, when Kennedy and Khrushchev faced off over the Cuban missiles. We practiced air raids in the basement at school once a month. One year later, President Kennedy was shot and killed in Dallas. I think it was the first time I saw my father cry. I was 11 in 1965 when the Watts rebellion incinerated large portions of Los Angeles.

I turned 14 in 1968, when it seemed we were on the verge of revolution. The year began with the Tet offensive, a series of attacks by North Vietnamese forces across South Vietnam, including an assault on the US embassy in Saigon. US military involvement in Vietnam had begun in 1954, the year I was born, when the French Army was defeated at the battle of Dien Bien Phu. By 1968, it was becoming clear that the war, which had raged my entire life, could not be won.

The antiwar and civil rights protests grew larger and louder. Millions of students marched, shut down campuses, and, in some cases, rioted. My mother and I passed out leaflets supporting Senator Eugene McCarthy, the peace candidate challenging President Johnson. My father started a peace group with other faculty and graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh.

On April 4, Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis. My father and mother wept, but in my classroom some of the children cheered. Violent riots broke out in major cities across the country, including Pittsburgh. From the windows of Mellon Junior High we watched the tanks and troops heading downtown to quell the unrest. Homewood and the Hill District burned, sending aloft thick plumes of black smoke clearly visible from the white suburbs. President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act one week later.

In June, Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles. The Republicans nominated Richard Nixon for president in Miami the first week of August, and the month ended with the Democrats nominating Hubert Humphrey after a week of bloody rioting in the streets of Chicago. From Peru to Ireland to Greece to Czechoslovakia, the world appeared to be on the brink of revolution, and the white middle-class families of Mount Lebanon were uncertain of the future—and anxious.

There were other, even closer, sources of fear for the children of Seneca Drive. G——was a tall redheaded kid with bad skin who lived across the street from us. M——was an athletic, dark-haired boy who lived one block down from us. Both were about five years older than my friends and me. It started, I think, when we were all in second grade. Every day, walking home from Markham Elementary School, we would try to avoid them.

In 1966 we had moved to a larger house on Inglewood Drive, just a few blocks from Seneca Drive. It wasn't nearly far enough.

With G——, it was mostly fumbling sexual stuff. It was confusing and creepy but rarely painful. With M——, it was less sexual but hurt more. Most of their victims were girls. I and one other boy, also slight of build, attracted their attentions. It continued throughout elementary school and the first year of junior high school. I was too ashamed and terrorized to tell my parents.

During the first week of eighth grade, a kid named C——beat me up in front of most of the student body. From then on, I experienced constant verbal abuse, as well as intermittent physical and sometimes sexual violence at the hands of older boys and classmates until we left Pennsylvania for Arizona in August 1968, eight weeks short of my 14th birthday.

My father had traveled out to Phoenix for his job interview and brought us back photographs and postcards. I was intrigued by the alien look of the palm trees and giant saguaro cacti. But mostly I just wanted to go. Anywhere. Anywhere I might have a chance to start over and not be the weak, frightened, and ashamed kid that I was in Mount Lebanon.

We pulled out of our driveway on Inglewood Drive in the family car, Mom and Dad in the front, my sister Elizabeth and me in the back with our cats, the car crammed with things deemed too valuable for the movers to handle, including an avocado tree grown by my father from seed, which we were ultimately forced to relinquish to guards at the agricultural checkpoint on the Arizona border. We drove across the United States on Route 66 to Winslow, Arizona, then down the state road to Phoenix and the "Valley of the Sun," Maricopa County.

Our new house was nice. Thirty large orange trees crowded our oversized lot. Tall palm trees towered over the house, and from the back yard we looked up to Camelback Mountain. Just a few blocks away was open desert, not yet covered with the appalling sprawl of development. The night sky was clear and crowded with stars, and the wind carried the scent of mesquite.

The first day of school, I waited for the school bus at the corner of Camelback Road and Jokake Street. I got to the bus stop early and watched hopefully as the other students from the neighborhood arrived. I was nervous but also hoping desperately that I could start over and be a new person.

An athletic blond guy, taller than the others, walked up, took one look at me, and said, "You look like a faggot."

New place. New people. The same old me, and the same old shit. The beatings in the locker room, taking punches at the bus stop. The names. It started up again immediately. For the next two and a half years, until that issue of Life magazine arrived at the school library, I had almost no hope.

I did make a few friends. A sweet and funny girl who lived across the street, Harriet, was kind to me from my first day in Phoenix. We'd smoke pot, and I'd go with her to help groom her horse and watch as she rode. She played piano. We went to concerts and hung out with a small group that didn't fit in the with the jock and cowboy crowd at Scottsdale High School. After school, she'd make us chopped olive sandwiches and we'd watch Dark Shadows on the TV in her parent's family room. Her parents were very kind to me as well, although I could tell they thought my parents were a bit odd.

There were a handful of long-haired kids at Scottsdale High as well, and we'd hang out during lunch break. Sheila Thomson and Heidi Fulcher, quintessential hippie girls, and a lanky boy named T. O. were my friends and companions.

There was a boy at the Quaker Meeting, one year younger than me, with curly dark brown hair that always smelled of patchouli oil. I lusted after him fervently, and one afternoon after an interminable amount of thrashing around we finally got naked together in bed. I began to dream of the day when we would leave Phoenix together; we'd hitchhike up to British Columbia, burn our draft cards, and live in a commune on the Frazier River, probably in a yurt we would order through the Whole Earth Catalogue.

In 1969 my little bunch of friends and I learned from underground newspapers and FM radio stations of the National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam and the Vietnam Moratorium days being organized by new peace activists, including David Mixner. We organized a march in Scottsdale on October 15 that was attended by hundreds of high school students, but my parents were alarmed and locked me in the house to keep me from attending. I was humiliated.

The streets of Phoenix were sterile and sun-blasted. We spent a lot of time in the car, where I would turn the radio dial to KDKB-FM to listen to the music from Detroit, California, and London as we drove past the strip malls and uniform suburban neighborhoods. I loved the Beatles, Marvin Gaye, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin (I saw her concert in Tempe in October of 1969), James Brown, the Mamas and the Papas, the Who, the Moody Blues, Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Cream, Bob Dylan, Blind Faith, Leonard Cohen. David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust came out in 1972; I knew every song by heart within a week. I also loved Judy Collins, and replayed "Colors of the Day" endlessly.

On weekends I often snuck into Tempe to the Valley Art Theatre to see films by Andy Warhol and Nicolas Roeg. I thought Mick Jagger was hot in Performance and wanted badly for Malcolm McDowell to fuck me after seeing If and A Clockwork Orange.

I had first encountered drugs back in Mount Lebanon about a year before we moved to Arizona, probably in the 7th grade. My little group of friends were all eager to be hippies and try drugs. Try as we might, marijuana was not to be found. But our parents all had medicine cabinets, and many of them were full of tranquilizers, pain medications, or sleeping pills. We pilfered them and shared in the woods behind our houses after school.

In Phoenix, in the public schools in the late 1960s and early '70s, drugs were everywhere. At Scottsdale High School the security guard, Mr. Landers, was afraid to venture into the boys' restroom, where a brisk business in cigarettes, alcohol, weed, pills, and psychedelics was conducted by some of the older and tougher kids.

Every now and then some new drug would arrive and the effects would often be immediately and dramatically visible. Our campus was divided in half by a large parking lot, and I remember sitting in a VW bug one afternoon, smoking a joint with a friend and watching my classmates stumbling by, stoned out of their minds on a new batch of Seconal, some collapsing on the hot asphalt.

Almost every kid I knew was using one drug or another, and everyone was drinking. And I am pretty sure that I was not the only one with the super-secret stash hidden away for that big, just-in-case, final-exit scenario.

I tried peyote and its derivative, mescaline, after reading Carlos Castaneda's The Teachings of Don Juan, which I suspected was total bullshit but loved reading anyway. Peyote tasted horrible and made me vomit, but mescaline was easier and the experience was amazing, magic mushrooms and LSD even more so. We didn't take them lightly or recklessly. We used them with great awareness of their power to do harm as well as to enlighten. We didn't think of them as we thought of pot or alcohol. There was a certain reverence to it all. We'd set the date, find the perfect beautiful natural setting with the requisite privacy and the right small group of friends. And then we'd trip.

Inexplicably, I was a terrible student.

By the end of my sophomore year at Scottsdale High School my parents were fed up. So they spent a huge amount of their hard-earned money and enrolled me at Phoenix Country Day School, an upscale prep school in a wealthy neighborhood on the boundary of Phoenix and Paradise Valley.

It was a little better for me there, less violent certainly. But most of the kids were rich, and while I was not often physically harassed, I was not popular. The only guy at PCDS that I ever spent time with was a sort of crazy cowboy kid named Ted. We'd drive to the end of the runway at Sky Harbor airport, smoke weed, drink beer, and lie on our backs as the planes landed and took off just yards above our heads. Once we drove all the way to Los Angeles, dropped acid on the beach, and then drove home the next day.

The students at that school were mostly into money. Many of their parents were building the tacky mansions that were beginning to sprout up on the flanks of Camelback Mountain, restricting public access and destroying desert habitat. They were overwhelmingly Republican. One of the popular girls, Bobbi Jo, slapped me—hard—across the face when I announced in class that I thought Richard Nixon was a liar. I think it was the day we learned of the secret war in Cambodia. Or maybe it was after the National Guard opened fire on protesting students at Kent State, killing four. Or was it Jackson State? I can't recall.

Then, in the middle of my junior year, I found that issue of Life magazine. I allowed myself only a few seconds to scan the article, terrified that I would be discovered. The librarian left the room to take a call and I slipped the magazine between my notebooks, then took it home, where I hid it under my mattress as if it were pornography. On bad days, when I hadn't been fast enough to get away from the bullies, I'd pull it out and read and dream.

There were other signs of hope, found unexpectedly in the book section of our local pharmacies and dime stores and in our parents' own libraries. In those days there were lots and lots of bookstores, and almost every large pharmacy, even some grocery stores, would have book sections where classics mingled with pulp fiction, westerns, crime, espionage, and science fiction. Among the authors one could frequently find was Mary Renault, whose novels about ancient Greece and Alexander the Great included stories of bold and loyal and muscle-bound warrior lovers that kept me awake at night, squirming into my mattress.

Our parents loved literature, and their house was filled with all sorts of books and magazines. I loved to read history, biographies, and fiction. I read their collection of back issues of Partisan Review and, every week, the New Yorker. I found the fiction of James Baldwin, Saul Bellow, Norman Mailer, John Cheever, Kurt Vonnegut, and Doris Lessing. I read Jean Genet and Sartre and Gertrude Stein and T. H. Lawrence, Christopher Isherwood, Simone de Beauvoir, and Lawrence Durrell. The more I read, the more hints and clues I discovered about gay people; it wasn't the only reason I read, but sort of a bonus to the pure pleasure of losing myself to words printed on paper.


  • "Enlightening.... Unsparing.... Powerful."—Booklist (starred review)
  • "You could read Cleve Jones's book because you should know about the struggle for gay, lesbian, and transgender rights from one of its key participants-maybe heroes--but really, you should read it for pleasure and joy. It's an incredibly vivid evocation of a bygone era and a poignant story of someone who started out feeling like the only gay person in the world and ended up organizing millions of them. I loved it for the firsthand history, and the crazily great details about drag queens, radical excess, passionate idealism, how to change the world and everything else that matters most."—Rebecca Solnit, author of Men Explain Things to Me
  • "I loved this amazing, inspiring, and sometimes outrageous book. When We Rise is about the building of a movement--and the building of Cleve Jones, who came to San Francisco as a teenage adventurer and transformed into an activist whose contributions helped change the course of gay history."—Gus Van Sant
  • "Cleve Jones is a history buff who has himself become part of history. He has been at the epicenter of the LGBT movement for over 45 years. Now, in When We Rise, Cleve takes us along on his personal journey in the fight for equal rights--a journey filled with humor, sadness, love and ultimately profound change."—Rob Reiner
  • "Some people witness history; other actually make it happen. Cleve Jones, by planting himself boldly in the eye of the storm, has succeeded brilliantly at doing both."—Armistead Maupin, New York Times bestselling author of the Tales of the City series
  • "When We Rise is a song to what's best in us, when we join together in a movement that takes us higher. The story Cleve Jones tells-of a bullied boy from the sun-blasted Arizona suburbs, who finds an extended family among the street kids of San Francisco and then within the gay movement that revolutionized the world-is thrilling to read. The path to freedom is littered with the names of fallen loved ones. But through all the sorrows and setbacks, Jones persevered-and the movement for human liberation that he helped lead still rises."—David Talbot, bestselling author of The Season of the Witch and The Devil's Chessboard
  • "An ode San Francisco.... an inspiring reminder that one can go from 'daydreaming about sex and revolution' to making them reality."—Publishers Weekly
  • "In this touching and timely memoir, Cleve relives his fascinating life, from adolescent blunders to his conception of the world-famous AIDS Memorial Quilt."—Brit + Co
  • "Essential reading."—Village Voice
  • "Jones takes readers on his thrilling, if perilous, voyage from fey, long-haired teen hitching his way from his home in Arizona to San Francisco, to becoming the mentee of Harvey Milk ... Jones survives San Francisco's viciously homophobic police in the '70s and, later, the AIDS epidemic that took his dearest friends. In the process, he helps mobilize the anguished, fiery momentum of LGBTQ rights in the United States."—Slate
  • "Sweeping and profoundly moving... At a critical time in our nation's history when many are afraid and so much is uncertain, When We Rise is a pertinent reminder to all to stand up and continue fighting for what we believe in."—Accidental Bear
  • "Now more than ever we must understand the history of queer activism in order to successfully continue on the legacy of those who came before us... We all need to read [When We Rise]."—Gayletter
  • "An ambrosial read, masterfully interweaving major historical events with juicy personal details of romance and heartbreak."—Mother Jones
  • "Powerfully written... Jones is a tireless fighter.... By the end of the book, we practically feel the heartbeat of America, and maybe it's a good heart, one that can accept love for what it truly is--love."—Bookreporter
  • "A front row seat to history .... Compelling .... A mandatory read for future scholars of LGBT history and for queer millennials to learn about their heritage."—Lambda Literary
  • "[A] love song to San Francisco ... This unvarnished, uplifting, opinionated memoir is a testament to Jones' courage."—The Bay Area Reporter
  • "[A] brilliant memoir."
    The Daily Beast
  • "When We Rise...brims with fondness, love, lust, inspiration, dedication and tenacity. Older readers will recall each headline-grabbing fight along the way. If I ran the nation's curriculum, it would be required for younger readers."—The Star Tribune

On Sale
Sep 26, 2017
Page Count
304 pages
Hachette Books

Cleve Jones

About the Author

Cleve Jones’ career as an activist began in San Francisco in 1970s where he befriended pioneer gay rights leader Harvey Milk. After Milk’s death, Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and conceived the idea of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which memorializes over 85,000 Americans who have died from AIDS. He lives in San Francisco and works as a labor activist.

Learn more about this author