ACT UP/LA protester Pete Jimenez chained to a desk in the Anaheim office of US Sen. John Seymour in 1991 (Poto by Karen Ocamb)
In August 1991, when AIDS protesters were non-violent but rude, loud and at times militant, 27 year old Pete Jimenez and about two dozen ACT UP/LA activists headed down to Anaheim, Orange County, then the seat of the political Religious Right wing and the White Ayran Resistance, and took over the offices of US Sen. John Seymour. They chained themselves to desks, plastered AIDS slogans and information and medical paraphernalia on the walls and chanted for 90 minutes as the staff and Anaheim police - clearly afraid of "catching" AIDS – tried to figure out what to do with them. Meanwhile, the ACT UP contingent called and faxed local media.
They shouted “People with AIDS under attack! What do we do? Act up, fight back!” as Pete and 11 others were arrested and taken into custody. They were cited at the local jail and released. The other protesters remained outside the office building during the action.
ACT UP/LA's Pete Jimenez being arrested in Anaheim, OC (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
The protest was over an extraordinarily punitive measure proposed by rapid homophobe Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C) - that one-time moderate Republican Seymour had voted for - that would have imposed a "mandatory 10-year prison term and a $10,000 fine on HIV-infected physicians, dentists and other health-care workers who perform surgery and other invasive medical procedures without informing patients of the infection," as the LA Times reported.
“I am here today to educate our elected official that his vote is contrary to what has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the professionals, and instead he has chosen to support an hysterical piece of legislation,” said HIV+ Stan Long, who served as the group's spokesperson. “This legislation does nothing but give people a false sense of security because it takes six months for somebody infected with HIV to test positive for the virus, but during that six months they can still transmit it.”
Sometimes Pete Jimenez was the ACT UP/LA spokesperson - or at least one of the protesters reporters sought and quoted such as in 1996 when ACT UP and other demonstrators disrupted Ronald Reagan's 85th birthday party at Chasen's in West Hollywood. “We went there to spoil their party, the way they’ve spoiled our lives,” said ACT UP member Pete Jimenez to Women Alive. “This is a warm-up for the Republican Convention next August.”
Patt Riese, Judy Ornelas Sisneros and Pete Jimenez on the frontline in the AB 101 protest in Sacramento (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
I quoted Pete and his partner Jeff Schuerholz often when covering ACT UP/LA and Queer Nation during ACT UP/LA events and the protests over Gov. Pete Wilson's veto of the gay rights bill, AB 101. Pete would give me a passionate and perfect activist quote - and then back away a bit and smile, non-verbally asking how he did.
I have spoken with Jeff, who is now chair of the board of directors for the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG) since the old days of activism. But I hadn't seen or spoken with Pete until the CSPG event (with Angela Davis) last November. We greeted each other warmly and enthusiastically, but I could also tell there was a sadness to him. Nonetheless, he hung with his friends and watched as Jeff masterfully organized the incredible event.
Pete Jimenez at CSPG (Photo by Karen Ocamb)
Late last night, Friday, April 13, Jeff posted a simple note on his Facebook wall "no words" with a happy picture of Pete.
Pete Jimenez (Photo courtesy Jeff Schuerholz)
Keiko Lane, who knew Pete from the old days, too, emailed me with the news. I was stunned. People with AIDS are supposed to die anymore. This is 2012. HIV is a manageable disease. I still don't have the details of Pete's death. That's up to Jeff to release.
But I do know this: I feel overwhelmingly sad. News of Pete's death has brought it all back - all that horror, all the grief, all the pain - and all the courage of people who were fiercely fighting for their lives against people who really didn't give a shit or thought AIDS was God's "punishment" for homosexuality. We are gradually winning that long battle for equal rights and first class citizenship - but losing our warriors along the way is still agony.
Rest in Peace, finally, dear Pete. And thank you for sharing your struggle.