The last time Cleve Jones came to Fresno to talk about gay rights, the Ku Klux Klan showed up in the Free Speech Area—in full hooded attire.
Jeff Robinson remembers it well; he was there at Fresno State on that President[s'] Day weekend in 1989, when the Western States Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Transgendered United Students Conference was held on campus.
“The Klansmen had to be escorted off the premises by campus police,” said the Gay Straight Alliance [Network]’s “Expression Not Suppression” [co-]organizer. “So when I asked Cleve to come speak at our conference this year, the first thing he said was, ‘Is the Klan going to be there to greet me?’”
Jones, founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt and historical consultant for Gus Van Sant’s film “Milk,” was in Fresno’s Tower District Saturday for the conference to talk about issues affecting the gay community and about the film.
“Milk” chronicles the life of Jones’ close friend and mentor former San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and the assassination of him and mayor George Mascone.
The Collegian got the chance to sit down with Jones and ask him about the film.
Collegian: What did you think of the movie?
Jones: I loved it. It was very well done, and I’m extremely proud to have been a part of it.
C: Was there anything left out that you feel should have been included?
J: Well, there were many things that had to be left out. [Screenwriter] Dustin Lance Black chose to focus on the last year of Harvey’s life.
C: How did it feel seeing someone portray you on screen?
J: It was pretty bizarre, but quite lovely. I think Emile Hirsch is a very fine actor. Cute as a button, too.
C: How did San Francisco change after Harvey’s death?
J: People were very sad, and then they got very angry. There was a big riot after his death, and then a year and a half later, the AIDS epidemic hit.
C: Do you think Harvey would have tackled the AIDS issue head-on?
J: Most certainly. I’ve thought about that often over the years.
C: You campaigned for Harvey in the ‘70s, started the [N.A.M.E.S. Project] AIDS [Memorial] Quilt in 1987 and wrote a book about it, “Stitching a Revolution.” What are you doing now?
J: I work for United Here, a labor union that represents hotel workers. Right now I’m working on a campaign called Hotel Workers Rising.
C: What kind of a person was Harvey Milk?
J: Harvey was the most empathetic person I’ve ever met. He went out of his way to make connections with people, and to find a common ground.