Queer Rights Activist Cleve Jones Speaks at Athenaeum

Cleve Jones left some audience members in tears Wednesday as thelong-time AIDS-awareness and queer-rights advocate and creator of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt delivered an emotional speech about his life’s work at theAthenaeum.Jones emphatically recounted the long train of events that brought him from Phoenix, Ariz. to the offices of Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor who was the first openly homosexual man to be elected to public office, to the death of his best friend, to the creation of a gigantic quilt commemorating AIDS victims, to a gay rights march last weekend in Washington, D.C.Jones began showing symptoms of HIV in 1992 and many of his friends died because of the pandemic. He was later diagnosed with HIV.Jones said the response to AIDS was completely inadequate because the disease affected “marginalized people from the beginning.”Though he said the pain he felt at the loss of his friends could not be conveyed, he told audience members to imagine “every person in this room [getting] sick [in two years], and you being the only one left.”Though Jones said those around him discouraged him from creating a quilt commemorating AIDS victims, he said the project was “a burning, compelling mission lodged in [his] heart.”The first panel of the quilt commemorated Marvin Feldman, Jones’ best friend, with whom he sat as he died. Today, the quilt has more than 44,000 panels memorializing loved ones lost.

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