Cleve Jones urges Student action

Renowned human rights and AIDS activist Cleve Jones shared his personal vision for gay rights through telling the story of life as a young activist in the 1970’s last Tuesday. Jones’ political activism began when he worked for Harvey Milk’s campaign for San Francisco Supervisor. In 1977, Milk was the first openly gay man to be elected for public office in the United States. Jones began his presentation by sharing his fond memories of Milk. Jones said, “Harvey served as a father figure for me, sheltering me from homelessness and helping me get through one of the toughest years of my life when I first moved to California after finishing high school. He inspired me to be proud of my identity, and he shaped my life in so many ways. I would not be the person that I am this day had I not met Harvey.” Jones served as a critical staff member for Milk’s campaign and worked as a student intern for Milk following Milk’s election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. On November 27, 1978, Milk was assassinated along with the Mayor of San Francisco George Moscone by a fellow city supervisor. “When Harvey Milk died, everything in my life seemed meaningless and I was overwhelmed with fear and anger. Harvey’s death was a turning point in my life and it propelled my decision to follow his footsteps and become a human rights activist,” said Jones. Following Milk’s death, Jones participated in the first of what would become an annual walk to commemorate Milk and the work he did for the gay community. The recent Oscar-winning movie “Milk,” produced under the guidance and historical account of Jones, portrays the story of Milk and his lifelong activism for gay rights. Jones said, “The movie came out at a perfect time. While the movie was really just a dedication to Harvey, I think it had a huge social significance at the time because it was released following Obama’s victory and the state of California’s decision to take away the preexisting Gay couple rights.” Jones also addressed the rapid spread of the AIDS/ HIV virus in the gay lesbian communities in the 1980s and the loss of his loved ones. “I was paralyzed with frustration and grief as I witnessed my beloved friends and people around me die from the spread of this terrible disease. The spread of the virus in the 80s was so severe that it seemed like everyone I knew was disappearing. When I was diagnosed positive by my physician, I was overwhelmed with fear of what was going to happen to myself,” said Jones. Jones attributed the disease’s rapid spread across the world to the Reagan administration’s lack of support for the suffering gay communities and failure to acknowledge AIDS and HIV as a severe health threat. He said, “If the government had taken active measures to prevent the spread of the disease, there would not have been so many Americans killed by AIDS.” Jones has received political and social acclaim for creating the AIDS Quilt project, in which he encourages anyone who has lost a loved one to AIDS to make a patch for the quilt commemorating that person. The quilt now has over 46,000 panels, representing over 91,000 people. Jones conceived the idea of the AIDS Memorial Quilt when he felt the need to commemorate the lives of over the many Americans killed by AIDS and to remove the social stigma of AIDS. Jones created the first quilt panel in honor of his best friend Marvin Feldman. As of 2010, the Aids Memorial Quilt is the world’s largest community folk art, and it has been displayed throughout the country for educational campaign purposes. Jones ended his presentation by encouraging Phillips Academy students to become active citizens and demand necessary changes in society. “It’s hard to bring societal change when we don’t demand it in an immediate fashion. Therefore, I urge you all to be impatient and stand up for your beliefs,” said Jones. Jones’s lecture was well-received by the audience and many students found his presentation very engaging. Prim Chanarat ’11 said, “While I had some previous knowledge of the gay rights movement in the country, I was never really aware of the severity of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s before Mr. Jones’ presentation. It was very insightful to hear about these topics from the perspective of a gay rights activist and an AIDS victim. Ben Talarico ’11 said, “Mr. Jones was an incredibly powerful speaker and his lecture was inspirational. I especially enjoyed his story about how the AIDS quilt came into being and how it affected so many people’s lives.” Will Brooke ’10 said, “Having seen the movie ‘Milk’ prior to Mr. Jones’s visit, it was really interesting to see how he has brought human rights activism to the next level and I was very impressed by his campaigns like the AIDS Quilt movement.” The Gay Straight Alliance brought Jones to Andover with fiscal assistance from the Abbot Academy Association.