In the premiere of ABC's new miniseries, viewers were introduced to Cleve Jones on When We Rise. As the episode makes clear, activism is in his blood and Jones was driven to stand up for his beliefs even as a young teen. He moves from his Arizona hometown to San Francisco to be part of the gay rights movement — but the city isn't what he expects and Jones initially considers leaving. The candidacy of openly gay politician Harvey Milk inspires him to stay in San Francisco and the first installment of When We Rise shows only the beginning of Jones' life as an activist. Viewers will learn more about his work as the miniseries progresses, but what's Cleve Jones doing now?
It probably won't surprise you to learn that Jones, who is now 62 years old, remains a devoted, passionate activist for LGBTQ rights. And, he's prepared to defend the rights of the community in the face of major setbacks that have already begun to occur in the weeks since Donald Trump was sworn in as president. (For example, bathroom laws put in place to protect transgender students were rescinded last week.) In an interview with TheWrap.com, Jones described When We Rise as "appallingly timely" and stated that, "Every issue I care about is at stake right now."
He also described what his life is like today: "I work for a labor union. I’m an organizer. I live in a rent-controlled apartment in the Castro, trying to hang on here." Much like When We Rise's other key players, Jones is unconcerned with celebrity status and deeply worried about the future of LGBTQ rights.
Jones, who is close friends with When We Rise creator Dustin Lance Black, told The Daily Beast that devastating setbacks and losses have been par for the course in his life — he contemplated suicide as a teenager, saw his mentor Harvey Milk's body moments after the politician's assassination, lost good friends to AIDs, and nearly died after being diagnosed as HIV-positive. "I carry with me a lot of grief and loss," Jones told the outlet. Of course, this hasn't stopped him from continuing to fight on behalf on the LGBTQ community — and he wants people to be aware that there is still a great deal of work to do:
“There have been so many points in my life when I thought I was done and the movement was done, and I want people to be aware of that right now with Trump. When it seems like it may be over, it’s never over.”
In the same interview, Jones said that he has no plans to retire — activism and social justice are the only things that interest him. He works as a community organizer at UNITE HERE!, the hospitality workers union. According to the union's website, Jones works to "make the labor movement more inclusive of LGBTQ workers" by ensuring safeguards are included in their contracts to protect them from workplace discrimination. UNITE HERE!'s website also notes that Jones and other members of the union will tour the country in the coming months to share the message conveyed in both the miniseries and Jones' memoir of the same name.
Like many other activists, Jones' schedule will likely be more hectic than ever during the Trump administration — and he hopes young people will be both determined and realistic about the battles we face going forward. Jones' interview with The Daily Beast was held shortly after he participated in a demonstration at San Francisco International Airport to support those affected by Trump's travel ban. He told the outlet:
“Young people need to understand they’re going to have to fight back against this for the rest of their lives. I don’t see this being undone quickly or easily. The reality is this man and his party not only control all three branches of the federal government, but close to two-thirds of legislatures.”
Although Jones foresees a difficult, painful path ahead, he emphasized that this certainly doesn't mean we should stop fighting for what's right. And, it's safe to say that Jones knows a thing or two about fighting the good fight even in the face of extreme adversity.