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Cleve  Jones

Cleve Jones

Author & LGBTQ Activist


“Cleve Jones was amazing. I must have received over 50 notes and counting about how wonderful and impactful the discussion was.”

“It was moving and fascinating as well. Thank you for enabling us all to learn details of an important part of not just LGBTQ history but American history.”

“From the bottom of my heart. I am humbled by Cleve. I am in tears. And thank you so, so much for bringing this to all of us. He seems like the nicest sweetest man. What he has seen….”

A civil rights icon and hero of the struggle for gay, lesbian and transgender rights, Cleve Jones has been a driving force behind the most important gains made by the LGBTQ community over the past four decades. From his early days in the gay liberation movement with Harvey Milk to co-founding the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, founding the AIDS Memorial Quilt, and fighting for marriage equality; Jones has made history as part of one of the most inspiring human rights movements of all time. He was portrayed in the Oscar-winning film Milk (for which he served as a historical consultant) by Emile Hirsch, prominently featured in the film And the Band Played On and in the critically acclaimed miniseries When We Rise, which was inspired by his memoir of the same title. Now speaking out for all who struggle for equality and fair treatment, Jones brings powerful perspective and storytelling talent to timely discussions of diversity, intersectionality and civil and human rights. Read More >

Born in 1954, Jones considers himself one of “the last generation of gay Americans that grew up wondering if there were others like himself.” Like thousands of others that fled repressive backgrounds, he was drawn to the progressive politics and sexual freedom of San Francisco in the early 1970s. It was there that he met Harvey Milk, the nation’s most outspoken gay elected official. Jones worked in Milk’s City Hall office as an intern until Milk’s assassination in 1978. With the onset of the AIDS epidemic, Jones rose up to organize the gay community and raise awareness, co-founding the San Francisco AIDS Foundation in 1983. The foundation has since grown into one of the largest and most influential advocacy organizations of its kind. In 1987, he founded the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, the world’s largest community arts project, memorializing the lives of more than 85,000 Americans. Jones’s first book, Stitching a Revolution: The Making of an Activist chronicles his life and how the AIDS Memorial Quilt project sought to restore hope in a time of tragedy and fear. Jones led the 2009 National March for Equality in Washington D.C.  He also served on the Advisory Board of the American Foundation for Equal rights, which challenged California’s Proposition 8 in the U.S. Supreme Court, winning a landmark victory for marriage equality. In 2016, Jones released his memoir, When We Rise: My Life in the Movement, winner of the Lambda Literary Award. The book inspired a 2017 miniseries directed by Gus Van Zant and starring Guy Pearce as Jones. He currently works with UNITE HERE, the hotel, restaurant, and food service workers’ labor union.

A passionate speaker with a powerful story, Jones consistently receives rave reviews for both his onstage presence and collaboration with clients. His keynotes have won the hearts of a wide range of audiences, including a pharma company developing HIV drugs, fundraising professionals interested in community engagement, companies and organizations celebrating diversity and gay pride, human resources professionals seeking an LGBTQ perspective, and universities and groups interested in the history of the gay rights movement and civil rights. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Reminder to Keep Moving Forward

When We Rise

Harvey Milk's Legacy

Taking a Bold Steps

Harvey Milk and the Power of Ordinary People

Fighting the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

Fighting for Marriage Equality

We Will be United, We Will Defend Them

Speech Topics

When We Rise

In an emotional roller coaster of real experiences, Cleve Jones will take you through the gay liberation movement and AIDS Epidemic of the 1970’s. Based on his new book When We Rise, Jones shares how Harvey Milk became the first largely outspoken gay elected official and ultimately, his mentor. Jones keeps Milk’s legacy and that of the gay liberation movement alive by creating the same impact on young adults that Milk had on him. Jones’ inspiring words on the political and medical movement will have an important impact on future generations.

Stitching a Revolution