8 Questions for Cleve Jones

Posted by , September 24, 2009 at 4:39pm

8 Questions for Cleve Jones

As we gear up for Equality to End AIDS on October 10, an HIV/AIDS rally and vigil during the National Equality March, the Update caught up to Equality March organizer and creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt Cleve Jones, 54. When the Equality to End AIDS event looked like it might not happen, Jones, who started community organizing with Harvey Milk in San Francisco, was among those who stepped in and saved the day.

Jones, who is HIV-positive, spoke about the march, equal rights, AIDS activism and why his critics’ arguments are “bullshit.”

How do you think AIDS is different for young people today than it was for your generation?
A whole new generation is being infected, many with multi-drug resistance. That generation is much less likely to talk about it and reveal their status. Much of the solidarity people of my generation experienced is gone. I learned I was positive when the test came out in 1985. The young people today I think are much more isolated.

Do you think gay men of your generation has abandoned the AIDS fight?
Part of it for my generation, I could see it in the eyes of the audience last night. It just brings back such horrible memories. I’ve lived for 10 years with the knowledge that I had the virus in my body before the treatment was available. Some folks just can’t deal.

But we really have to acknowledge that the depths of commitment is not there. It’s not what we saw in the past. I hate having to say this, but I think it’s a racial issue. The infections have become more prevalent among communities of color. The face of AIDS is always changing and more complicated than showed by the media. Many are young people of color and they tend to be poor. There’s a regrettable reality and much less solidarity from the community. And it saddens me.

Will health reform be talked about at the Equality March?
These issues we should discuss. I’m disturbed that the LGBT community is not more concerned about healthcare. It perplexes me that our leaders are not more involved. All of us who are in relationships know that obtaining insurance for partners is a big deal. We still aren’t always able to gain access. Not only HIV, but also with breast cancer. Also the issue of rates of alcoholism and drug reform. To my mind, it will only be meaningful if it includes the public option.

How is your health?
My health is good. I have some health problems that are not HIV-related. I was really ill in the early 90s. I began treatment in fall of ’94 and have really done very well on it. I have some issues that are related to the fact that I was sick for so long, and some of the medications I took in the early 90s.

Why is Equality to End AIDS a separate event during the weekend?
In previous marches, an enormous amount of energy was spent fighting over a list of demands. We want this march to be extremely focused on one issue and that one issue is equal protection under the law. We also recognized there are many issues relating to the LGBT community that need to be explored in more depth, so we are having additional programs during the weekend and speakers on stage during the march.

What do you say to the critics who say the march is a waste of resources?
Oh please, don’t even go there. That is such bullshit. And you can print that. The amount of money we’re spending on the march has been spent on one weekend in alcohol. People are jealous of their own budgets. They don’t know crap about raising money. They get this idea that there’s a limited amount of money. That’s laziness. Movements have to grow or they die. You have to always been bringing in more people and more resources.

Do you think your part in Milk has made you more accessible to a younger generation?
Absolutely. Since the film came out, I’ve traveled all around the country. I’m exhausted. We’re at a historic moment. If we can be very bold and strong right now, we can win equality for LGBT people and then have the opportunity to redirect our energy. And this is not limited to HIV/AIDS.

I’ve read about people who’ve conjectured that if Harvey Milk had lived, he may have been able to prevent some AIDS deaths. What do you think of that?
I don’t think that’s an argument I’ve ever made. I’m not sure that Harvey himself would have survived, given that most of his partners died. I think there’s all sorts of hypotheticals, except many of us felt if Harvey had lived, he might well have become Mayor. It would be interesting to imagine if the mayor of San Francisco wasn’t as squeamish about sexual behavior what that would have done. Instead of [California Senator] Dianne Feinstein.

Equality Against AIDS is an HIV/AIDS rally and vigil that will take place on October 10 from 5:30 to 8:30pm. For more information contact Christine Campbell at

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