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Cleve  Jones

Cleve Jones

Author & LGBTQ Activist

Biography

For 50 years, Cleve Jones has given a voice to the voiceless, organized the struggling and disenfranchised, and inspired activists and audiences alike with his life stories of driving history-making change. He was recognized as a Champion of Change by President Obama and portrayed in an Oscar-winning film. His acclaimed keynotes connect the historic struggles of the past with the most urgent issues of our time: overcoming pandemics, achieving economic justice, protecting the vulnerable, and standing up for all forms of human rights. Read More >

A passionate speaker with a powerful story, Jones is now speaking out for all who struggle for equality and fair treatment. He brings both historical perspective and storytelling talent to timely discussions of diversity, intersectionality, civil and human rights and the stunning parallels between the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics.

Jones currently works as a community organizer for UNITE HERE, the international union representing hotel, casino, food service and restaurant workers. He came to labor activism already a hero in the struggle for gay, lesbian and transgender rights, and a fearless champion for those living with HIV. Jones has been a driving force behind the most important gains made by the LGBTQ+ community over the last five 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 effective human rights movements of all time. He was portrayed by Emile Hirsch in the Oscar-winning film Milk, for which he served as a historical consultant. Jones was also prominently featured in the critically acclaimed miniseries When We Rise, which was inspired by his award-winning 2016 memoir of the same title.

Now considered one of the elder statesmen of human rights activism, Jones came to advocacy through his own struggle as a gay man born in the mid 1950s. As a teen runaway, he was drawn to the progressive life and politics and 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 (SAF) in 1983. Unlike the movements of today which rely heavily on digital marketing and social media, Jones grew the SAF into one of the largest and most influential advocacy organizations of its kind through grass roots efforts.

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. and 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.

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, advocacy groups wishing to learn from his experience, 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

Becoming a Changemaker: Mobilizing Movements for Any Cause

Before social media –even before the digital age itself, Cleve Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation (SAF), one of the largest and most influential advocacy organizations of its kind. SAF was the foundation for 50 years of standing up for individuals and groups that need a strong voice, including the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt and Jones’ current work for UNITE HERE, the international union representing hotel, casino, food service and restaurant workers. In this essential talk for advocates, activists, fundraisers and changemakers, Jones, now one of the elder statesmen of human rights activism, translates the tenets of grass roots mobilization for a new generation of changemakers. From messaging to best practices in organizing to how to be an effective leader in this space, Jones provides an essential toolkit—and sage advice— for anyone seeking to advance a cause and create real and lasting change.

COVID and AIDS: The Parallels, Lessons and Victories Worth Remembering

Worldwide, 35 million people have lost their lives to HIV/AIDS. With no cure and no vaccine, that  pandemic is far from over.  While our nation and the world now focus on COVID-19, Cleve Jones points to stunning parallels between the two pandemics and the political will that led to historic medical and social breakthroughs in the fight against AIDS. Key to all was the Ryan White Care Act, a bipartisan response that was a crucial component of a sustained, long-term science-based approach to addressing HIV. In this timely talk, one of the country’s most noted AIDS and social justice advocates examines the similarities between the two pandemics—what we can replicate to address the coronavirus today, as well as the inevitable health challenges of the future.

When We Rise: My Life in the Movement

In this moving talk, drawn from his critically acclaimed memoir, When We Rise, Cleve Jones shares his 50-year personal and political journey to becoming a hero of the LGBTQ+ community. Beginning with the electrifying atmosphere of 1970s San Francisco, Jones takes audiences through the Gay Liberation Movement, his mentorship by legendary activist Harvey Milk, the terrifying early years of the AIDS pandemic, and his own rise to the forefront of activism as co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and AIDS Memorial Quilt. Speaking as both a witness to history and as one who critically shaped it, Jones chronicles an era that forever changed both the fabric of our nation and the lives of millions of LGBTQ+ Americans.