The veteran LGBTQ activist Ken Jones died yesterday at the age of 70. He had been diagnosed with bladder cancer in September. His death was announced by his good friend, Cleve Jones, via Facebook.
Cleve Jones wrote, “Ken Jones was a hero. He survived many struggles. He deeply loved his family and his community, and dedicated his entire life to the movement for peace and justice. He was very grateful to all of you who reached out to him with messages of encouragement and love during his illness. Today Ken lost his fight against cancer. A memorial will be arranged when it is safe once more for us to gather. Rest in Power, Ken. I love you.”
According to the Bay Area Reporter, Jones dies in San Francisco VA Medical Center. His caregiver at the time of his death, Sanjai Moses, told the paper Jones had helped raise her.
“It’s going to take a lot of time for our community to adjust to Ken not being here anymore.”
Just before Christmas, Cleve Jones had shared updates on his friend’s treatment, saying they had spoken on the phone.
“Ken wants his friends to know that he is back in the hospital and the cancer he has fought all year has spread,” Cleve Jones wrote. “Due to COVID-19, he can’t have visitors, which adds of course to the sadness of the situation. He and his medical team at the VA are evaluating his options.
Ken Jones’ life was dramatized in the miniseries When We Rise in 2017, which explored the work of LGBTQ activists in the 1970s/80s and beyond. He was played by the actors Jonathan Majors (as a young man) and Michael K. Williams.
Jones grew up in New Jersey and fought in the Vietnam War. He relocated to San Francisco after a stint of assignment at Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay area in 1972.
An early advocate for greater diversity within LGBTQ organizations, Jones was one of the most high-profile Black, gay activists in San Francisco’s history. He was the first African American chair of the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee board and served at the SF Pride organization during the early 1980s, among other positions.
A long-term HIV survivor, he was ordained as a deacon later in life and officiated weddings, often sharing photos of himself with happy couples on his social media. He also led tours through the Castro.
In a 2017 interview with ABC, Jones spoke of the importance of reminding younger generations of the battles fought by those who came before them.
“I often say it’s like working a garden. It’s never done. Every generation needs to hear the story again and again about how absolutely horrible things were for us.”
Among those to mourn Jones’ passing was California Senator Scott Weiner. “I’m absolutely heartbroken to hear about Ken Jones’ passing,” said the gay lawmaker in a tweet. “Ken was one of our best LGBTQ activists ever & also one of the kindest people I’ve had the honor of knowing. What a loss for our community.”
Dustin Lance Black, who wrote When We Rise (based on Cleve Jones’ memoirs), wrote: “Rest in power KEN JONES. His was one of the three proud histories shared in #WhenWeRise. An ordained deacon, a dedicated HIV/AIDS activist, he worked hard to desegregate the LGBTQ movement. I will never forget his smile, kindness, and inextinguishable passion for fairness.”
Rest in power KEN JONES. 💔 His was one of the three proud histories shared in #WhenWeRise. An ordained deacon, a dedicated HIV/AIDS activist, he worked hard to desegregate the LGBTQ movement. I will never forget his smile, kindness, and inextinguishable passion for fairness. pic.twitter.com/kgyFo9saWA
— Dustin Lance Black (@DLanceBlack) January 14, 2021