Photo credit BuzzFeed News
Originally published in the South Florida Gay News
“When We Rise” is a miniseries about LGBT rights, created by Dustin Lance Black based on an autobiography by long-time gay rights activist Cleve Jones. The series stars Guy Pearce, Rachel Griffiths, Mary-Louise Parker, Michael Kennet Williams, Austin P. McKenzie, Emily Skeggs, Jonathan Majors, Fiona Dourif, and Sam Jaeger. It premiered Feb. 27, and ran four nights that week. It chronicles the gays rights movement in San Francisco over the course of four decades following the lives of several LGBT individuals.
Here are some of the real heroes portrayed in the ABC docudrama:
Cleve Jones (1954) is an AIDS and LGBT rights activist. He’s the founder of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt which has become, at 54 tons, the world’s largest piece of community folk art. In 1983, at the onset of the AIDS pandemic Jones co-founded the San Francisco AIDS Foundation which has grown into one of the largest and most influential AIDS advocacy organizations in the U.S. Jones is HIV positive. When he first learned he was infected he became seriously ill. Today though his present health is good.
Roma Guy is an American LGBT and women’s rights activist. Before moving to San Francisco she worked in Africa for nine years. She is openly lesbian. Guy and her partner moved to San Francisco in the 1970s. They were two of The Women’s Building’s cofounders, and Guy was a co-founder of La Casa de las Madres, Women Against Rape, and The Women’s Foundation of California. Guy also advocated for women’s access to healthcare in San Francisco. She served for twelve years on the Health Commission City and County of San Francisco. In 2014 the San Francisco Health Commission adopted a resolution recognizing the “Life & Legacy of Roma Guy.”
Ken Jones, an openly gay black man, joined the gay-rights movement after the Vietnam War, only to discover and confront racism within the gay community. His activism turned intersectional as he fought to diversify the gay rights movement, while also fighting the AIDS epidemic and organizing services for homeless youth. He advocated for a clean needle exchange that he brought to the Black Caucus. In many ways, he is the one who initiated a lot of the change that happened in the Castro district of San Francisco.
Diane Jones is the partner of Roma Guy. Jones’ first job out of nursing school was working on one of San Francisco General Hospital’s medical-surgery units, which ended up being ground zero in the early AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. Several of those early patients said, ‘Oh, there are these two nurses on the night shift, and they’re not afraid of us, and they’re gay. You should get them,’” Jones said an interview. She was one of them. From there, she became an activist on the front lines of HIV/AIDS healthcare, and pushed for expansion of access to federal resources, research, medication, preventative care, and education. Jones recently retired but continues to be an activist. She and Guy live together in San Francisco’s Mission District.
The Actors: Guy Pearce as Cleve Jones/Austin McKenzie as young Cleve Jones – Mary Louise Parker as Roma Guy/Emily Skeggs as young Roma Guy – Rachel Griffiths as Diane, Roma’s wife/Fiona Dourif as young Diane – Michael Williams as Ken Jones, African-American community organizer/Jonathan Majors as young Ken Jones.