Cleve Jones visits WKU, discusses LGBTQA activism

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Nicole Ziege

Cleve Jones, an LGBTQ activist, spoke at WKU tonight about his involvement with the gay rights movement and his work with Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected political official in California.

During his speech, Jones talked about how he became involved with the gay rights movement in San Francisco, and how he became acquainted with Milk, who was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977.

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Renowned LGBT+ activist <a href="https://twitter.com/CleveJones1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CleveJones1</a> is speaking now at Gary Ransdell Hall. <a href="https://t.co/EdrGI05uEF">pic.twitter.com/EdrGI05uEF</a></p>— WKU Herald (@wkuherald) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuherald/status/928791269639446529?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 10, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuherald/status/928791269639446529″ type=”twitter”}}

“Harvey loved his city,” Jones said. “He loved his people. He was honest, he was fearless, and in fact, he changed the world.”

Jones said during his lifetime he “has been privileged” to know, march with and work with “the most extraordinary heroes” of his lifetime, including Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela.

“The movement saved my life,” Jones said. “That’s not an exaggeration. That’s not hyperbole.”

After Milk’s death, Jones said he became a consultant with a Democratic caucus in Sacramento, and he was assigned to the city health committee. He said it was in that position while reading public health journals in June 1981 where he learned about “the disease we now call HIV/AIDS.”

Jones said the disease “went through my neighborhood like a fire.” He said he “became obsessed with this.”

“No one was responding,” Jones said. “A thousand of my friends and neighbors were already dead. Most of them didn’t make it to 30.”

{{tncms-inline account=”WKU Herald” html=”<blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">"You could tell that people were yearning to find a way not only to grieve their friends who died so horribly and so young, but to tell the world about it." – <a href="https://twitter.com/CleveJones1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@CleveJones1</a> speaking on the AIDS epidemic.</p>— WKU Herald (@wkuherald) <a href="https://twitter.com/wkuherald/status/928799379472994304?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">November 10, 2017</a></blockquote>” id=”https://twitter.com/wkuherald/status/928799379472994304″ type=”twitter”}}

Jones created the idea for the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which included the names of those who died of the HIV/AIDS virus.

“I thought about it for a year,” Jones said. “Everyone said it was the stupidest thing they ever heard of.”

Jones said it “became the world’s largest community arts project.”

“I don’t want any of you to ever believe that change isn’t possible,” Jones said. “There are many people out there right now who want you to feel like you are powerless. It is a lie. Every one of you has something to bring to this effort.”

Jeremy McFarland, student coordinator for the Queer Student Union, said he coordinated with Jones’s agency and was a liaison between WKU and the agency to help in getting Jones to speak at the event.

McFarland said Jones speaking on campus was important because it is “an opportunity for us to be together, queer people and our allies.” He said it was “also an opportunity to connect with” the “history of queerness” and the “history of the fight that we’ve gone through for our rights.”

“So often, being queer, it’s so isolating, and we’re made to feel like we’re the only ones, and so you may be growing up in a community where you don’t know any other queer people,” McFarland said. “It’s like you’re on a deserted island, and if you don’t have that present connection, if you don’t have that connection to the past, how are you supposed to imagine having a future?”

Des Moines, Iowa, senior Murphy Burke attended the event after having dinner with Cleve Jones and “a couple other students who were part of different activism groups on campus.” Burke said she is part of the Planned Parenthood Generation Action activist group, which she said focuses on “reproductive justice.” She said she was inspired by Jones after reading about his and Harvey Milk’s work, and said Jones “is a great example.”

“He is a great example of how activism should be done to do the work that needs to be done,” Burke said.

Morehead junior Lane Hedrick said she attended the event to support WKU history professor Patricia Minter, who organized the event, and “discover more ways that I can help advocate for LGBTQIA+ people in Bowling Green and elsewhere.”

“There’s a lot more work to be done,” Hedrick said.

Reporter Nicole Ziege can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].