Cleve Jones, gay activist, friend to Harvey Milk and creator of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, came to CU encouraging this generation to get off the computer and get involved.
The 55-year-old human rights advocate discovered the gay rights movement in 1971 and hitchhiked to San Francisco soon after. There he lived on the street, until he was found and took in by Harvey Milk, California’s first openly gay elected official.
Since then he’s been a prominent member of the fight for equality. In 1985 Jones conceived the idea for the AIDS Memorial Quilt, where people who have lost loved ones to AIDS can create a quilt panel as a tribute to them. It has become the world’s largest community art project, with over 80,000 panels, according to his website.
He came into the spotlight with the 2008 film “Milk,” where his character appears as an intern and friend of Milk’s. His talk Thursday night started with asking the audience if any had seen the film, and a majority of the crowd raised their hands.
“Oh, so you were expecting Emile Hirsch?” Jones said. “Well, I was that hot…”
He spent the talk telling stories about riots at city hall, losing his best friend to AIDS, battling the horrors of AIDS himself and being close to death. He had the audience laughing one minute and somber the next.
He used jokes to offset the seriousness of much of what he was saying.
“People would be calling me with death threats at, five o’clock in the morning saying, ‘you’re gonna die today f—-t,’” he said. “But see, I am just not a morning person!”
The speech ended with a standing ovation and cheers from the crowd.
Hillary Montague-Asp, a 20-year-old junior women’s studies major, is officer for The Queer Initiative, a queer-interest group at CU that organized the event. Montague-Asp said she was pleased with how the talk turned out.
She had driven with Jones on his way from the airport and said she was surprised by how down-to-earth he is.
“I got a sense of his strength, and when riding here from the airport, I got a sense of how much an ordinary guy he is,” Montague-Asp said. “He’s just like the rest of us. It’s amazing to know what ordinary people can be capable of.”
After discussing his activism-filled past, Jones shared a few insights about the young people of today.
“Your generation frightens me,” he said. “You’re the most self-absorbed, passive, boring, young people I’ve ever encountered. I mean you’re cute – but for God’s sake turn off the computer.”
Several students said they walked away inspired.
Junior 22-year-old pharmacy technician Jeff Moore said Jones made him want to become more active.
“He brought out a sense of emergency no one gets anymore,” Moore said. “He made you want to get off the internet and go make a difference. We’re not all just a number. We all matter.”
According to the AIDS Memorial Quilt display, 36.1 million people are currently living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and 12,500 people die from it every day. At least half of new HIV infections in the U.S. happen to those under 25-years-old.
Despite Jones’ concerns, he said he is hopeful for the future, and thinks he will live long enough to see real equality.
He said the movement finally knows what they want: equal protection under the law. And he stressed that people should know how important their voices are.
“All our lives have values,” Jones said. “All our lives are linked. Everything you do matters.”
Contact CU Independent Copy Editor Amanda Moutinho at Amanda.email@example.com.