Students Inspired to Fight Against HIV
HIV activist calls for a more aggressive generation
April 20, 2006 9:07 PM
SF State student Megan Rush wept profusely. What began as an extra credit assignment for a human sexuality class left the 20-year-old biology major overwhelmed and inspired to mobilize her generation in the fight against HIV.
Cleve Jones, former SF State student and AIDS Memorial Quilt Founder, delivered a harsh, bleak message about the epidemic and the state of political activism to about 200 students at Jack Adams Hall on April 18.
“You’re such a passive generation. You need to speak up,” said Jones, 51, as he thumped the wooden podium.
His message struck a chord in Rush and other students.
Rush approached Jones after his speech. She was crying. Jones wiped her tears and embraced her.
“If he touches one person and that one person touches another person, it’s a huge chain of effects,” said Rush about the AIDS Memorial Quilt founder.
Jones, who is HIV-positive, told SF State students during his speech that he had lipodystrophy – selective loss of body fat – on his face, a side-effect of anti-retroviral drugs. He has had multiple silicone injections to restructure his face.
“This is not fun,” he said.
Jones also spoke about his near-death experience from having pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, a disease common among people living with HIV because of their weak immune systems.
It is the second time Jones was invited to speak to students from AIDS biology and human sexuality classes on campus.
“He is a leader and he has the whole story of AIDS from the very beginning,” said kinesiology student Joe Yeary, 52.
AIDS biology instructor Ann Auleb said the co-founder of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation never fails to inspire his audience.
“We want people to get emotionally vulnerable to new information. And Cleve has that effect,” said Auleb about Jones, who dropped out of SF State 28 years ago.
At the Cesar Chavez Student Center, the crowd laughed when Jones said, “I am everything I am because of SF State.”
“I didn’t go to class very often. I was too busy burning police cars,” he said, recollecting the political activism of his youth. He said he regrets not graduating.
An urban studies and political science major in the late 1970s, Jones interned at San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk’s office.
He left the university soon after Milk, the city’s first openly-gay leader in office, and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978. They were shot by former supervisor Dan White, who opposed the enactment of Milk’s gay rights bill.
“It seemed to me that everything that we struggled for was over,” he said. “It was such a terrible loss.”
He was later offered a health committee position in Sacramento by the California State Assembly.
While working at the state capital, Jones learned of Kaposi’s Sarcoma and other opportunistic infections, related to HIV, which were infecting previously healthy gay men. Soon many of his friends, lovers and the gay community in the Castro fell ill and died, he said.
Jones later tested positive for HIV.
“I was ready to die,” he said. “Everybody already had.”
The HIV activist said he was angered with the government’s slow response to the epidemic.
In 1987, Jones, who founded the AIDS Memorial Quilt, created the first quilt panel in memory of his friend Marvin Feldman who died of AIDS. Feldman was also a SF State student.
Sophomore Pardis Esmaeili, 19, said she was teary-eyed when he spoke about coping with the death of his loved ones.
The atmosphere in the room was somber when Jones said he was frightened by the present generation’s apathy toward political activism and HIV. He does not want today’s youth to suffer the same fate as himself and his friends.
“I sincerely hope that everyone of you live to be very, very old,” he said. “I wish you all long and healthy lives.”
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