Cleve Jones says he was once as cute as Emile Hirsch, the actor who played him in Milk, last year’s bio-pic starring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. For about three months.
But, as I saw when he spoke here last week a few days after being involved in leading the October 11 gay rights march in Washington, D.C, he has no regrets. Mr. Jones is not bitter about being an older, somewhat sagging gay man, past his prime, so to say. In fact, he insisted that he is having a wonderful time now, perhaps the best in his life, telling the many college students in the audience to enjoy their youth but not to despair about getting older.
And what a life Mr. Jones has had! Not really a wonderful life, or a charmed life, but certainly a life lived with passion. And he spoke about it, quite generously, with considerable passion.
I am sorry I can’t recount all the details, but they are not so important. What grabbed me was the force and emotion with which Mr. Jones spoke of leaving his family as a very young man, going out to San Francisco and meeting and working for Harvey Milk; seeing Milk as he laid dead after being shot by fellow County Supervisor Dan White and taking part in the huge, silent, candle-lit vigil following the murder and the violent march after White got off with a light sentence; meeting a man who would be his best friend - "only a friend" - and then being devastated but embraced by the man’s family when the man died; starting the AIDS quilt with a friend and being amazed by how it grew and how beautiful and eloquent the panels were/are; being diagnosed with AIDS and almost dying.
Clearly, such a full, dramatic life have left him full of strong feelings. Indeed, he ended his formal talk with a full-throated demand that GLBT people have full, equal rights - not one right there and a different right here. I heard him saying that queer folks should be accepted as they are and not have to assimilate, and I suspect he’d agree with me that it was wrong that the No on 8 campaign here in California last year never mentioned the word "gay," furthering its shame.
By the way, the talk took place at Claremont McKenna College, a couple weeks after hosting RuPaul, the super drag queen (see "Playing with all the colors in the box" below). I was also impressed to learn that C.M.C was the first college to display the AIDS quilt years ago, which I remember attending. Not bad for a school known for conservative jocks!