Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Living with passion

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!


  1. In the day of Milk's death my father sat in the driver's seat of the Ford truck, when I caught him in a deep thought staring as we sat, waiting to go to work. "What is wrong", I asked.
    He said, "he can not believe the system has deteriorated in front of his eyes."
    The subject always stuck in my mind. I asked what was the problem when he told me of a murder in the news where a man named White had gunned down another man and was to receive only a light sentence.
    A great man he was to see a gay man, not as gay, but as a human being and with the rights as anybody else, not once mentioning the word gay in the discussion.
    The movie was very moving as well as the history depicting the effort of the community to gain equality.
    The friends of Milk are with his enthusiasm to pursue happiness without hatred and prejudice.
    Every time I here gay this or how gay that someone is, I feel the ignorance of our society lives on and has to change, just as the civil rights movement changed the dynamics of race, the gay movement must also make it clear, there is not a don't ask, don't tell apathetic policy, but a don't offend, don't ignore should be another freedom for all to live their lives, with whoever and for whatever reason, without being a subject of ridicule.
    I had to correct my sister this week-end when I heard her say something derogatory about the kind of people she works with, being employed for a developemental department of care.
    "You shouldn't say you work with "Tards", when the proper politically correct term is mentally challenged," as to her response, it was silent.
    The same should go for racial slurs as well as any derogatory attitude. The gay community is here, just as racial equality should exist without having to defend their rights.
    My problem is the country is becoming more and more grid locked in policy of politics as well as ill conceived judgements. Because not one individual or group wants to be excluded. When we have reverse affirmative action as a nullifying aurgument as well as a don't ask, don't tell, being trite for the solution to hate.
    My wish is for equality.
    Love your opinion as well as your honesty.
    Peace and love, urapoet, AKA Daryl.

  2. Thanks John for a lovely description of a hero.

  3. Wow; thanks for this writeup, John. This is a talk I wish I'd been there for! -D