Whe We Rise

“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

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—and written entirely in his own words—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 possibility, and prejudice 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—an activist whose work continues today.

The Miniseries

In February 2017, ABC aired a four-part miniseries event inspired by the book, created by Academy Award-winner Dustin Lance Black.

The miniseries was recently awarded the Audience Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

When We Rise chronicles the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to the once unfathomable successes of today.

The all-star cast includes Guy Peace as Cleve Jones, Mary-Louise Parker as Roma Guy, with special appearances by David Hyde Piece, Whoopi Goldberg, Rosie O’Donnell, Carrie Preston, and Rob Reiner.

The two-hour premiere event was directed by Gus Van Sant.

Episode Guide

Night I: In 1972, calls for gay rights inspire a new movement.

A young peace activist escapes his repressive life in Phoenix and heads to San Francisco, hoping to find refuge and community, but finds that the struggle for survival is just as difficult as it was back home. Elsewhere, NOW purges lesbians from its ranks.

Night II: Ken, Cleve, and Roma fight the Briggs Initiative.

Ken, Cleve, and Roma fight an initiative that would ban gays from working in California public schools, while Cleve works on the campaign to elect Harvey Milk as San Francisco City Supervisor. But soon a disease starts killing gay men all over the country.

Night III: AIDS ravages the gay community during the 90s.

AIDS continues to ravage the gay community. Cleve creates the AIDS quilt in order to get the President’s attention, while Diane’s daughter Annie struggles with her identity as the child of a lesbian couple and a gay man.

Night IV: Cleve inspires young activists to march on Washington.

An energized Cleve inspires a group of young activists to organize a march on Washington to demand full LGBTQ civil rights, while Roma uses her skills to reform healthcare in San Francisco. Elsewhere, a group forms to try overturning California’s discriminatory proposition banning gay marriage.