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His One Queer Voice: Pete Jimenez – February 12, 1964 – April 13, 2012

His One Queer Voice: Pete Jimenez – February 12, 1964 – April 13, 2012

by Karen Ocamb on April 15, 2012

Pete Jimenez

His One Queer Voice: Pete Jimenez  – February 12, 1964 – April 13, 2012

By Keiko Lane

The photo of a beatific Pete strapped into an amusement park ride appeared on Friday evening, April 13. The caption from Jeff Schuerholz, Pete’s partner of more than two decades: No Words.

This is how we found out Pete had died.

All night, phone calls and texts, emails and lit candles. None of us who loved him, it seems, slept much. Jansen Matsumura found words first: Queer. Militant. Radical. Liberation. Nonconformist. Diva. Fag. Unapologetic. AIDS. Fabulous. Real. Role Model. Teacher. Friend.

Judy Sisneros spent the night tracking down close friends to share the devastating news, never straying far from her phone and computer. She remembered when she first saw Pete in the circle of folding chairs under the glaring light of Plummer Park’s  meeting room, during a large, raucous Saturday night Queer Nation gathering.

 

Pete Jimenez and Jeff Schuerholz being interviewed after a Center for the Study of Political Graphics event (Screen capture)

Pete and Jeff. I can’t remember a time when their names weren’t one complete phrase. They met more than 20 years ago when Jeff was volunteering with Project Angel Food, delivering meals to homebound people with AIDS. One day, Pete was on his route. After that day, Jeff tried to get the same route to see him again, but Pete was no longer on the delivery list. Then, after Govenor Wilson vetoed AB101, the bill which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment and housing, Jeff came to a Queer Nation meeting where he saw Pete. They had been together ever since.

Pete Jimenez, Jeff Schuerholz, Jansen Matsumura (Photo by Judy Sisneros)

This past winter in L.A., a small group of us held an ACT UP reunion dinner. Pete walked into the restaurant leaning on a cane, and though he rolled his eyes when I said it, I told him he took my breath away. He was so gorgeous. “Girl, what did you expect? An AIDS corpse? I’m not dead yet, though sometimes it feels like it.”

That night he talked about what he was working on politically—that the Internet had allowed him to revive his activist life, even though it was often from his bed. His Twitter handle was My1QueerVoice.

Pete was a hub of global queer rights information, the way 20 years ago, he was always a source of hopeful AIDS treatment news tempered by conspiracy theory and a good dose of ACT UP gossip.

I looked at his Twitter on page the night he died: Pete had sent 28,250 tweets and had 2,062 followers. How many of those people did Pete ever actually meet? Does it matter? He touched everyone. He was willing to fight for everyone.

Pete wasn’t just a loud, unapologetic queer. In addition to being an out-and-in-your-face AIDS infected faggot, his activism spanned world health issues. He networked with activists the world over about the global battle against homophobia and state-sanctioned queer bashing; the fight for a truly universal healthcare system; the struggles against militarization; and opposing the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran. And his commitment to women’s healthcare spanned global and domestic contexts.

Mary Lucey and Nancy MacNeil remember that Pete always encouraged the men in ACT UP to support the Women’s Caucus actions and to show up and fight with us:

He would be pissed at the guys who would say “no, that’s just for the women, it is not for us.” Because Pete knew it was for everyone—when the men fought, women stood a chance to benefit, but mostly as a side effect. But when the women fought, it was for the men as well. Because if the women gained something, we knew for sure that the men would also benefit. He really understood that and got the big picture.

 That reunion night last winter, Pete stayed up way past his bedtime and exhaustion limit to be with us in the glow of the love we all still felt for one another – and the 20 years of shared memories. Watching him, I was flooded with images of Pete pushing past his limits in the service of community. This was not something new. When Robert, an ACT UP friend and fellow Radical Faerie was dying, Pete and Jeff hosted his farewell ritual. Late into the evening, a dozen of us sat with Robert. Pete took care of all of us, then spent days in bed, recovering.

Pete’s friend Diviana Ingravallo remembers:

What I’m crying about today is his compassion, empathy, his deep understanding of any sort of pain that his friends or anyone that crossed his path were experiencing.

A couple of years ago, I was in the hospital for a few weeks for a spinal surgery. Pete came to visit. Knowing how hard it was for him to physically leave the house—to do those activities so simple to able-bodied people—I was surprised. He arrived, dressed to the tilt, wearing his activist T-shirt, his cane covered in bright political stickers.

“Of course I’m here. How could I not visit you,” he said. He was present, supportive, and helpful throughout my healing process and beyond. The notion of anything but that complete involvement had never crossed his mind.

Pete Jimenez wearing his "Infected Faggot" t-shirt from the "Infected Faggot" publication by his close friends Wayne Karr and Cory Roberts (Photo from Pete' Twitter account)

He was “a queer’s queer,” his partner Jeff said the morning after Pete died. Jeff reminded me about Pete’s 30th birthday party. They didn’t think he would live to see it. They thought that as they celebrated each of the 18 birthdays that followed.

But Jeff didn’t mean that in that Hollywood romance way of living each year in glorious freedom because it might be your last. That narrative only makes sense if the forces working against you that you must overcome are only the limits and anxieties of your own fear and not the very real bodily experiences of illness and oppression that most of society condones.

Pete Jimenez arrested after an ACT UP/LA demonstration in Orange County (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Pete refused the narrative of innocent victim. He delighted in both his rage and his desires. And we all believed the story we told one another – that those things might keep him alive. Pete did keep pulling through. Each time he got sick and we feared we would lose him, he’d get better. So we bought into that story, kept thinking he would make it. Pete, our mascot of survival. Our heart center and the icon of our fury. All the contradictions of our experiences contained within one fragile body.

He took on that role, but he also worried about the political implications of an assimilationist model of survival. Pete had been a part of the AIDS Cure Project, as well as several other projects such as Clean Needles Now, the needle-exchange program offshoot of ACT UP, and campaigns trying to assert the rights of People With AIDS (PWAs) to drug access and clinical trials. He also challenged AIDS service organizations when he felt they weren’t serving the best interests of their clients. Pete believed that clients’ best interests were both necessary services and a commitment to push for a cure.

Even when he was in the hospital, Pete would track the treatment of PWAs by the medical staff. If he felt that he or any other patient wasn’t being treated with the proper respect – or the proper medical protocol – he would rally his energy to educate patients and staff and help patients advocate for themselves.

After Pete died, his doctor wanted an autopsy to determine the specific cause of death. But we know why he died. He died of AIDS. Maybe, today, for the grieving and outraged, it doesn’t matter if it was neurotoxicity or organ failure or stroke from the years of AIDS drugs, or if his system simply could no longer withstand the impact of more than 25 years of fighting the virus. He died of government neglect. He died of fear and ignorance.

Pete died because the community has thrown its weight behind the idea that AIDS is a chronic manageable illness and is focusing less and less on demanding a cure. AIDS is not a manageable illness. We are only now beginning to see the psychological and physiological impact of many years of drug treatments – and even then only for the people who have economic access to treatment.

“I’m tired of everyone calling it a cocktail,” Pete would say. “It’s nothing like a cocktail. There’s nothing fun about it.”

After he died, in our insomniac grief, we started telling stories. “What do you remember?” began our teary conversations.

Mary Lucey was both fond and envious of Pete’s boot collection, in particular his knee-high black lace-up combat boots. Nancy MacNeil, Mary’s partner and former Being Alive staff member said, “Oh and his ink—we think he was the first to have a ‘toxic waste’ tattoo—and of course “Silence = Death” down his forearm. Most of Pete’s tattoos were political.”

Pete Jimenez protesting outside the Ronald Reagan Library (Photo by Keiko Lane)

I was so used to Pete’s tattoos, I had almost forgotten about them. According to Jeff, Pete had Silence = Death running down his forearm so that it was at the needle insertion site for his constant IVs and blood draws.

Pete’s tattoos were also visual evidence of his sweetness – and his sometimes hidden romanticism. Jeff remembered the day Pete turned around to show Jeff that his name was now inked into the back of Pete’s neck, with a heart.

Through his tears, Jeff remembered moments of great joy and Pete’s insistence on positioning himself as a mentor to the next generation. Pete mentored young HIV+ people and also nurtured the creativity and intellect of young friends and family members. After Pete died, his 10-year-old friend Quinten, nephew of Mary Lucey, wrote:

Pete was my mentor and my friend. I met him because God wanted me to meet him. He was a lot like me. When I heard he died it put me in shock. I felt like breaking my mommy’s phone. It made me realize how special and fragile life is. He had HIV and it just made me think of aunty Mary because sadly she has it too. Pete was a humorous, lovable, and special guy. He should have lived longer. Although I only got to see him twice and talk to him four times at least I got to do those things. He was a WONDERFUL GUY! We’re always going to be together in my heart. I know I’ll see him again. I just have to wait a little. He knows that people love him and that’s uniqe like him. Rest in peace Pete. I love you.

Pete Jimenez with Angela Davis (Photo from Pete's Twitter account)

Quinten wasn’t the only young person Pete loved and spent time with. When Pete met Angela Davis at an event organized by Jeff at the Center for the Study of Political Graphics, all Pete could talk about was his young cousin and how he wanted to help her grow into a strong intellectual woman. He had Angela Davis sign a book for her.

It’s tempting to stop the story here – to fall into the ubiquitous liberal and leftist discourse that would have us ascribe only a narrative of kindness, gentleness, and sweetness. A man who would use his bulk and strength, both body and spirit, in the defense of someone else. But not in his own defense. These are all the ways we are supposed to present men of color so that their ferocity does not offend, so that they are not read as a threat to the dominant paradigm of cultural hierarchies that work to keep them oppressed.

Pete Jimenez protesting (Photo by Keiko Lane)

But Pete was also that man: the strong, radical queer man of color who would dare use his voice and body in the service of liberation. In the service of self-defense.

Kirk Wilson remembers “that smile of his. I don’t think I ever saw him without it. Even during extreme ACT UP demos with certain threats of arrest and cops ready and wishing to whoop on him, he always had that huge smile, which, of course, would piss the cops off even more. Love that.”

Pete Jimenez Nov 2011 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Someone else remembered:

There was this action in Sacramento—demanding humane treatment for prisoners with AIDS. Pete and a few others were behind the hotel and they had a three-person slingshot balloon launcher. It took four of us to make it work. A person on each end, one person to hold the sling, the other person held on to that person’s waist and pulled the launcher back. After a couple of tries and lowering the angle of the sling, we cleared that two-story hotel building in Sacramento, launching balloons filled with fake “blood.” And we hit our target—well, any government building that happened to be on the other side was the target—and there were plenty of them. And Pete set “dummies” on fire and hoisted them up the flagpole.

The burning mannequin representations of prison guards was quite a sight to behold.

Pete Jimenez with Patt Riese and Judy Sisneros on the frontlines at the AB 101 protest in Sacramento (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Pete was one of the last survivors of a particular group of radical queer AIDS activists who refused acceptability and assimilation as a political strategy. When I spoke with Jeff, we conjured an image of Pete in the spirit world reuniting with Cory, Wayne, Robert, Sister X, and the other Radical Faeries lost to the plague, hugging and kissing hello, saying “Girl, you look fabulous! I missed you! Now let’s go fuck shit up!” We laughed at the image. We wished we believed it.

When the others in our circle died, almost 15 years ago now, we took to the streets, burning cardboard coffins and shutting down intersections. ACT UP was 10 years old then. Now it’s 25. I don’t know what we will do to honor Pete. Or how many of us there are to take the streets. But I do know this:

Pete was gorgeous. Outrageous. Righteously rageful.

We are outraged. We are not finished. As he would act in our names, so will we in his.

We will not be acceptable in our grief or our rage. We owe him that. We owe each other that.

Pete Jimenez 2012 (Photo by Keiko Lane)

{ 3 trackbacks }

ACT UP/LA Protester Pete Jimenez Dies at 48
April 16, 2012 at 6:56 AM
His One Queer Voice: Pete Jimenez – February 12, 1964 – April 13, 2012 « HIV Drug & Alcohol Task Force
April 16, 2012 at 7:24 AM
ACT UP/LA Warrior Pete Jimenez Remembered
May 29, 2012 at 9:45 AM

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Lucey/Nancy MacNeil April 15, 2012 at 5:28 PM

Thank you for writing such a beautiful piece about such a couragious queer man.
In Solidarity, Mary

Keiko -you are not only a brilliant writer, but a true artist – thank you, thank you, thank you. and it’s your words that ring true: “We are outraged. We are not finished. As he would act in our names, so will we in his.Wewill not be acceptable in our grief or our rage. We owe him that. We owe each other that.” …. and indeed we do!
love, nancy

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eddie fukui April 15, 2012 at 6:03 PM

Amazing profile of Pete – My heart feels like it is going to explode and I am once again crying on the streets of NYC. I am also overfilled with powerful compassionate rage that I am walking with my head up as my tears flow down.

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J. T. Anderson April 15, 2012 at 8:24 PM

Thank you. We will not forget.

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Roberta April 15, 2012 at 9:35 PM

Such a beautiful dedication of my Sweet Cousin’s life :)
He is going to be missed very, very much..
I will keep all our memories close to my heart ❤

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Dominique April 15, 2012 at 10:23 PM

Thank you for you wonderful words and stories about my uncle.. He was a great man and he is missed so much!! He will forever be close in my heart and I know I will see him again!!

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Patt Riese April 15, 2012 at 11:01 PM

Keiko and Karen – Thank you for a most beautiful article (and pictures), truely capturing Pete’s essence. I know he would have loved what you wrote, as much as I know his friends do. Thank you so very much.

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rebecca April 15, 2012 at 11:39 PM

Beautifully written about a man thats passion for whats right was expressed in all he did. It was a pleasure meeting Pete and I have my memory of him and for that I am grateful.

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Jenniemarie April 16, 2012 at 12:13 AM

Thank you so much for the beautiful summation of my dear cuzin passionate life. You truely capture many moments and reminded me of all the conversations we would have after each journey. I miss him so much now and will miss him forever.

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Jacob April 16, 2012 at 1:06 AM

Thank you so much for writing this beautiful piece about my uncle. I know he influenced a lot of people in his life. I will always love him and miss him and I will always keep the memories I had with him in my heart.

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Richard Gray April 16, 2012 at 6:36 AM

Wonderful words, Keiko and Karen. What an amazing queer among amazing queers. Love Richard. Please let me know when the memorial is.

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memes April 16, 2012 at 9:24 AM

Pete..
My tia georgia was so proud of you and she loved you so much. We are all going to miss you but your life is DEFINETLY WORTH CELEBRATING. Love you!

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Jenniemarie April 16, 2012 at 3:36 PM

Karen: Read your story at 10 times since yesterday about my cuzin. I think you would be the perfect writer for this: Let’s submit Pete’s story to the “White House Launches Citizens Medal Nomination . I saw the description in this post and thought wow.

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Judy Sisneros April 18, 2012 at 10:50 AM

Keiko Lane actually wrote this wonderful piece…posted onto Karen’s LGBT POV blog. Please see headline where it repeats in a smaller font and you will see Keiko’s name there.

It is a great story, I cannot stop reading it myself.

Judy

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Queer David Lawrence April 16, 2012 at 5:06 PM

Thanks for writing such a thorough piece about Pete.

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Anne Kazaian April 16, 2012 at 8:48 PM

I remember Pete fr. back in the QN days…he said something to me once that has always helped me and kept him fondly in my remembrance

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Wendell Jones April 17, 2012 at 2:54 PM

Keiko, it was great to read your article. Its been a long time. Pete was a really sexy powerful political friend. It was hard to find myself crying again after all these years for an ACT UP friend. But your article was a real gift. I had not seen Pete in number of years, so it was great to see the more recent photos as well as the pictures of Pete in his prime wild guy days when we were all hanging out. My thoughts are with Jeff in these hard times. Be well.

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Scott T. Imler April 20, 2012 at 3:56 AM

Tears well in my in the eyes of my heart
but dare not flow.
For how, once begun would I ever know
how to stop them.
One day when the pain had muddled my brain
Mary Lucey called on the phone.
Don’t sweat it my dear you are not alone
within minutes Pete knocked on my door.
Tears well in my in the eyes of my heart
but dare not flow.
For how, once begun would I ever know
how to stop them.
pSI 4.20.12

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Jess Nowlin(jessie mae) April 20, 2012 at 9:48 AM

my pal Pete’y….so many FAB memories I’ve got tears in my eyes ….thunder all around me as I write….my old friend….saying hello!!! Keiko you’re the best! love to ALL! xoxox Jessie Mae

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Ellen Skewes, Texas, USA April 26, 2012 at 11:58 PM

Dear Lord, I miss him. I miss Pete so much. I’v cried for hours. My eyes are swllen. I cudnt even eat anything today. Pete was a one of a kind. I admire him for so very many reasons: cheerful attitude, strait-upness, real, activist, fighter,outspokenness, generosity, friendliness, helpfulness, a stand-beside-you and i-have-your-back kind of friend, advisor, wise, teacher, enlightener, pasionate, compassionate, empathetic, had friends in good places also willing to fight for you. I could go on and on. Pete was simply Pete, one of the most real people I never got the pleasure to meet. We met on twitter, and became fast friends fast! I knew a little of his history, what he told me. He was very honest, blunt, pulled no punches. I learned so much from him. I’m learning even more about him and from him now. I miss you Pete, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt I will see you again beloved friend. Your pain is gone, your agony thru, your mission accomplished. You will be a never-to-be-forgotten role-model Pete. Your earthly tourof duty has come to a close, your freedom begins now, in Heaven, with all the other kind and good hearts. I will see you again Pete, in the sweet by and by. Loveya, Ellen XOXO

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Joanne April 27, 2012 at 10:53 AM

Thank you for such a wonderful piece. Most of his Twitter friends just found out today about Pete’s passing and we’re reeling. He was one of the most amazing people I’ve ever “met” – we connected after the 2009 election in Iran. Pete was wonderful. He was angry, caring, determined, bold, and there is a huge hole in the world without him. I was having a rough day a few months ago and, to cheer me up, he started telling me many of the stories you’ve recounted here. Before then I’d had no idea of the tremendous work he’d done for so many years. Pete was, and is, an inspiration to me, and he was always supportive and loving. I’m a better person for knowing him. I miss you, Pete.

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Anita Hunt April 28, 2012 at 6:51 PM

I’m in shock, I only just found out and I just can’t deal. I only want to send you all my love, especially Jeff.

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Mary Nalick May 16, 2012 at 6:54 PM

Wonderful piece. Terrific guy.
Horrible disease.
Thank you for remembering.

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Bruce Mirken May 16, 2012 at 8:03 PM

Thank you, Keiko (lord, how long has it been since I’ve seen you?) for such a lovely remembrance. Pete was brave, sweet, and selfless. In activism there are always disagreements and sometimes arguments and harsh words, but Pete’s kindness always radiated through, no matter what was going on or who was pissed off at whom.

One oddball memory just occurred to me that I have to share: At one ACT UP action at which we were both arrested, Pete began feeling ill while we were in police custody and had to lay down. Someone asked him if we could get him anything. In a faint, weak voice, he said, “More stickers.” He was one of the sweetest people I’ve ever been lucky enough to know. And if there’s an afterlife, you can be damn sure he’s already talking to the authorities and making sure everyone’s being treated right.

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Keiko May 18, 2012 at 3:45 PM

Bruce – What a fabulous memory of Pete. Are you still in LA? Hope to see you at Pete’s memorial.

Keiko

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Ty Geltmaker & James Rosen May 16, 2012 at 10:10 PM

We are so sad to hear of Pete’s death. Not having seen him in many years, there is locked in our memory this beautiful, smart guy who stood up to power with a smile as big as his righteous outrage. And the later pictures show his beauty was a constant. Our terribly imperfect, unjust world is at least a little better because of him. But way too soon.

Ty & James
514 N. Hermosa Dr.
Palm Springs, CA 92262
echobamboo@roadrunner.com

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Jake Epstine May 24, 2012 at 7:46 PM

Keiko,
Beautiful article about a beautiful man. Thank you. I’ve thought about Pete often in the past few weeks, his tremendous energy and, yes, his loving mischievous smile. My soul is warmed knowing his spirit lives on in those who love him.
Jake

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Jenniemarie May 24, 2012 at 11:09 PM

I miss my cuzin so much. Grateful that he was loved by his friends. Pete always said they were his family too. Missing him..

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Luis Pardo June 13, 2012 at 7:51 AM

Very sad to hear about the loss of another great activist, have great memories of ACT UP and Pete was a big part of my world then, and I remember so many stickers, it was like sprinkles on donuts and cupcakes. Sending lots of love to all, Thank you Pete, xoxox Luis

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meli b (hammers) September 7, 2012 at 7:07 PM

sweet Keiko Lane…a name from my past. how I cry as I read these amazing words about a man we all held so dear. Grief is overwhelming. It was wonderful to see the photos/videos from the memorial. I am happy that it was your hand penning thoughts and remembrances of Pete. You are still the love you always were. xo sad to have lost touch…startedfollowing you on twitter…deepsouthmele. Your old friend and marching mate, Mel

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Quinten MacNeil April 13, 2013 at 3:50 PM

“When I find a penny on the ground, I call it pennies from heaven, and I think of my beloved.” … “Who is your beloved?” … my daddy … “Mine is Pete. And when I see a butterfly, I think of him too.”

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