[698]: When We Rise by Cleve Jones

A compelling, inspiring memoir about the beginning of the decades-long fight for LGBTQ equality.

When We Rise
by Cleve Jones

When most of Americans exalted at the news that marriage equality was finally the law of their land, the world joined in the celebration. #LoveWins trended for days after the proclamation. And the religious right stayed in their homes clutching their pearls while they prayed for everybody’s souls.

Now I sit here with worry. Because among all the other disturbing things that are happening in the States right now, there is something else simmering on the stove of this ridiculous administration: the new VP is a huge proponent of conversion therapy for gay people. I wouldn’t put it past them to enact something as heinous as sending kids to a gay camp to cure them of their burgeoning homosexuality. Adding to the worry is the vacant SCOTUS seat which, judging by the cabinet members President Shit For Brains has been installing, will more than likely be filled by another bigot. (I feel like I’ve been angry since November and I’m not even sorry. ) For now, at least, the marriage equality is safe (fingers crossed).

When We Rise is a memoir that needs to be read by everyone. It comes at an anxious, but much-needed time. If the November election has thought us anything, it’s that our marches helps fire up a revolution in our own little way. It doesn’t start as a raging inferno. It begins in small sparks. Cleve Jones’ role in the LGBTQ equality was an accumulation of a lifetime of fighting for recognition spurred on by the beatings he’s gotten as a teenager and his parents’ inability to acknowledge him for what he truly was. Yet despite his parents’ shunning, and the bruises he’s endured, his bitterness was noticeably absent.

He was a man who grew up at an age where sexual promiscuity, gratuitous drug use, and decadence was pertinent. A man who didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life other than to make the next buck that will sustain him for the immediate time. He moved from Arizona to San Francisco when his father let him know exactly what he thought of his sexuality. He would travel the world and switch between San Francisco and Europe. So when did his revolution began? I got the impression that everything fell on his lap. Not that it was easy, mind you. You’d care to know that even though San Francisco was the epicenter of it all, none of it was easy.

 The emergence of AIDS in the 80s was when we see him go through griefs for the losses of his friends and lovers. It was during this time when he would be in the biggest fight of his life – literally and figuratively. The number of deaths due to AIDS back then rose to an unfathomable number. Their fight for equal rights stalled all thanks to the prejudice and backlash they’ve gotten because of AIDS. Conservatism and Reagan were in office. And funding for research and cure was not a priority even though it was killing Americans at an inconceivable rate. It would take years and a Democrat in office before America actually paid attention.

When We Rise is a great book to read if you ever need a starting point to understanding the fight that they’ve long since waged. It’s interesting to see the birth of the revolution that wasn’t well received in the State of California at first. Surprising, considering that California is the cradle of progressive government in the country.  Mr. Jones highlighted the many struggles and triumphs that the movement has gone through over the years. The men and women who helped brought forth an awareness to their cause that eventually paved the way for the progress that the American LGBTQ community experiences nowadays. It was great to learn that Nancy Pelosi has been such a long time supporter of equality for the LGBTQ.

Cleve Jones’ memoir chronicles the never-ending fight that the community faces. Along the way, he’ll meet countless of valiant people willing to fight alongside with him. He imparts a message that couldn’t come at a better time than now. That it takes more than one march to fight for your rights, against the injustices of the world, and for what you believe in.

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  • Awesome review Joy. <3 Yay for enjoying this one 😀 It sounds pretty heartbreaking and amazing too. Probably not for me, but you do make me curious 🙂 Glad you liked it a lot. <3

  • I’m really not a memoir kind of reader, but I’m glad it made such a strong impact on you Joy!

  • This sounds like such an incredibly powerful book Joy, especially topical in today’s US political environment. Lovely review!

  • Greg Hill

    Sounds like a fascinating and timely read, no doubt. I agree with some of the other commenters that it’s a scary time, and sad to see people trying to roll things back. I don’t think they’ll succeed- though- short term maybe, but long term, no.

  • This sounds like a wonderful book here. I am not a liberal or anything, more of a moderate. I am all about equality and accepting others as they are and life choices they make. I am pretty scared at what Trump is planning but I think his VP is even worse and scarier than he is. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try to take out marriage equality, womens rights and anyone that doesn’t conform to their standard of beliefs. Very similar beginning actions that Hitler made. Its why I am immersing myself in my books and blog and working out like crazy to work off the stress. What is scarier is that half the country voted for them. Crossing fingers that things will get better not worse.

  • As a liberal who’s heart is on fire right now, I just hope my peers on the left will have endurance. It’s going to be a long hard fight, the right will try to wear us out, but I hope Drumpf & the rest of the world’s building displeasure will continue to fan our embers.

    P.S. Let me know if turtle McConnel replies to your letter

  • well.. it is a long journey towards people understanding and accepting sexual choices. It is a shame how we are taking a step back because of our leader’s bigotry.

  • RO

    We knew these things were going on from the outside, but to see it depicted by someone who has actually been in the struggle is poignant and thought provoking. You give a really good review of the book, and I love how you care about so many important issues. I think there may be an upcoming movie about this soon. Hugs…

  • This sounds like a really powerful read!

  • This sounds like such an important story. Just getting the government to acknowledge the presence of AIDS was a huge step. We have come a long way and I hope we don’t lose any of the progress.

  • It’s so good that you are reading relevant books for the situations that we are going through. Now more than ever, it’s a small way to fight back at what is being forced on us. Even book reviews are a way of doing so.

  • shootingstarsmag

    It’s definitely a scary time for LGBT rights, and a lot of other rights in general. I’m glad you enjoyed this memoir. Thanks for sharing.


  • It is a scary time. I just hope the nation can recover from all of the damage these fools in office are inflicting on us. I’ve seen commercials for this film/tv event airing soon. Are you going to watch?

  • I’m not a non-fiction reader either but I love how passionate you are. After reading your review, I’m going to add this to my wish list. Thanks for always keeping me informed, Joy.

  • Karen

    I’m so worried about all of this. I knew a girl (she was a neighbor) who was gay and her parents sent her for electric shock therapy to *cure* her. She started out so bright, bubbly and trusting and became fearful, withdrawn and ended up doing drugs/drinking heavily.

    We’ve made progress but we’re not there yet and the speed of which this is all unraveling is frightening.

    Karen @For What It’s Worth

  • I do worry about the future

  • I don’t read much nonfiction truthfully but this does sound pretty fascinating. I loved your “president shit for brains” comment. Pretty perfect. He’s just so evil and outright not qualified for anything but reality television! And I have been depressed since November as well.

  • It’s interesting but I confess it’s maybe nor something for me. I didn’t know about it so thanks for sharing!