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When We Rise

When We Rise

  • Premiered: 
    February 27, 2017
    (Click date to see TV listings for that day)

  • Network: ABC
  • Category: Series
  • Genre: Drama
  • Type: Live Action
  • Concept: 
    Created by Dustin Lance Black 
  • Subject Matter: Historical
  • Tags: LGBT

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Plot Synopsis

Written and created by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black, WHEN WE RISE is a four-night event series that chronicles the real-life personal and political struggles, set-backs and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBT men and women who helped pioneer one of the last legs of the U.S. Civil Rights movement from its turbulent infancy in the 20th century to the once unfathomable successes of today. The story focuses on four people: Cleve Jones, Ken Jones, Roma Guy, and Diane. Cleve Jones, a young Quaker from Arizona, joined the gay liberation movement in 1972, was mentored by pioneer gay-rights leader Harvey Milk, founded the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, and led the National March for Equality in 2009. Ken Jones, an African-American Vietnam veteran, joined the gay-liberation movement in San Francisco, only to discover and confront racism within the gay men's community. For years he organized services for homeless youth, worked to diversify the gay movement, and led efforts to confront the devastation of the AIDS epidemic. From rural Maine, Roma Guy is a lesbian and a long-time social justice leader who co-founded the San Francisco Women's Building. Then, as a Public Health Commissioner, she worked with others to bring healthcare access to all San Franciscans. She is currently a criminal-justice activist. Diane, a lesbian mother and grandmother of three, joined the Women's Movement in the 1970s in San Francisco, co-founded the Women's Building and has worked as an HIV/AIDS nurse and social justice activist at San Francisco General Hospital for 33 years.

Part I (Monday, February 27, 2017 from 9-11pm ET/PT): Viewers meet Cleve Jones, a young Quaker activist who escapes his repressive life in Phoenix and heads to San Francisco in hopes of finding refuge and joining the peace movement; Ken Jones, an African-American sailor in the United States Navy who is reassigned from Vietnam to San Francisco to spearhead a new military desegregation program; Roma Guy, a dedicated member of the women's movement who has not fully come to terms with her own sexuality. When NOW purges lesbians from its ranks, Roma moves to San Francisco and dedicates herself to opening the first women's center in the country run by women, for women. Diane, a nurse and social activist whom Roma met in the Peace Corps in Africa also moves to San Francisco to join the women's movement. In the two-hour premiere, as these idealistic social-justice fighters come out or are outed, they are forced from their jobs, their movements and their homes, and must escape to San Francisco in hopes of finding safe harbor. When their hopes turn to disappointment, they join the fledgling LGBTQ movement and together, locked arm in arm, set out to change the world. Guest starring in Part I are Whoopi Goldberg as Pat Norman, Rosie O'Donnell as Del Martin, Denis O'Hare as Jim Foster, David Hyde Pierce as Dr. Jones, Carrie Preston as Sally Gearhart, Charlie Carver as Michael, Maddie Corman as Phyllis, Michael DeLorenzo as Jose Sarria, Nick Eversman as Scott Remple, Caitlin Gerard as Jean, Sam Jaeger as Richard, Justin Sams as Sylvester. Part I was written by Dustin Lance Black and directed by Gus Van Sant.

Part II (Wednesday, March 1, 2017 from 9-11pm ET/PT): It is 1978, and Cleve Jones, Ken Jones and Roma Guy work together to fight Proposition 6, which would ban gays, lesbians, and their allies from working in California public schools. Ken lives secretly with his boyfriend, Richard, a social worker who would lose his job if the ballot measure were to pass. Meanwhile, Roma quickly discovers that living with her ex-girlfriend Diane and her current girlfriend, Jean, isn't exactly ideal when Diane announces that she's going to have one of the first ever lesbian "turkey-baster" babies. Now living in the Castro with friends Marvin and Scott, Cleve works on the campaign to elect Harvey Milk as San Francisco City Supervisor. Victory soon turns to tragedy when Milk is assassinated. The ballot box, the police, and the courts unable or unwilling to protect them, our characters rise up and take to the streets. Just as gays and lesbians are gaining political power in 1981, a disease dubbed "gay cancer" begins taking the lives of gay men and IV drug users. When Cleve's friend Bobbi Campbell falls victim, Cleve turns to Dr. Marcus Conant, determined to help slow the spread of this yet untreatable disease. Diane works as a nurse at a public hospital. Needing more help in the face of this rapidly growing health crisis, Diane convinces Roma and the Women's Center to volunteer to help comfort the hospital's "untouchable" gay patients. Cleve, Ken, Roma, and Diane struggle to educate a terrified community with what little information they have, while wondering if they too may have contracted the disease. During a heart-breaking vigil for those who have passed, Cleve is inspired to create what will become the AIDS Memorial Quilt, in hopes of seizing the nation's attention, Guest starring are Whoopi Goldberg as Pat Norman, Rosie O'Donnell as Del Martin, Carrie Preston as Sally Gearhart, Ivory Aquino as Cecilia Chung, Caitlin Gerard as Jean, Dylan Walsh as Dr. Marcus Conant, Kevin McHale as Bobbi Campbell, Sam Jaeger as Richard, Nick Eversman as Scott Remple, Maddie Corman as Phyllis, Rafael De La Fuente as Ricardo, Justin Sams as Sylvester, Akuyoe Graham as Luna, Joshua Brockington as Daniel, Pernell Walker as Gwenn Craig, Saidah Arrika Ekulona as Audre Lorde, Derek Phillips as Dan White.

Part III (Thursday, March 2, 2017 from 9-11pm ET/PT): A decade has passed, it's the early 90s, HIV/AIDS continues to ravage the gay community, and Cleve, Ken and Richard now know they have this deadly disease. In order to get the country, the U.S. government and the President to give those dying of AIDS any attention, Cleve dedicates his waning energy to creating the Names Project AIDS Memorial quilt. Ken's home ripped away from him and his health failing, Cecilia Chung helps him enter a VA hospital to receive the treatment any veteran deserves -- but in this era of Don't Ask Don't Tell, this environment proves challenging. Roma lives with Diane and Diane's daughter, Annie, now a young pre-teen. When Annie begins asking about her father, Roma and Diane set out to find him, but are surprised to learn his identity and must make changes to their treasured little family. It's 1997, Cleve has moved to Palm Springs for his health, and has been pushed aside by modern LGBT rights organizations. When he objects to one such group honoring a president who signed Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act, he learns just how little clout he now holds. Cleve does, however, find brief happiness in fatherhood when he begins the process to foster parent a sick neighbor's child. Diane's daughter, Annie, in full teenage rebellion mode, is sent to Catholic school where she struggles to find her place as a child of lesbians and a gay man. Meanwhile, Ken checks himself into a VA HIV+ drug addiction program where he grows close to a closeted gay man. But unable to be out in this military environment, things only grow darker, and Ken must turn back to his roots, to God, for the help he desperately needs. Guest starring are David Hyde Pierce as Dr. Jones, Ivory Aquino as Cecilia Chung, Dylan Walsh as Dr. Marcus Conant, Sam Jaeger as Richard, T.R. Knight as Chad Griffin, Todd Weeks as Tom Ammiano, Rafael De La Fuente as Ricardo, Charles Socarides as Richard Socarides, John Rubinstein as Charles Socarides, Balthazar Getty as David, Don Frankel as President Clinton, Gideon Adlon as Annie, Jayne Taini as Elouise, JJ Boone as Leslie, Willam Belli as Jason, Lydia Boland as Annie, Melora Hardin as Carole Midgen.

Part IV (Friday, March 3, 2017 from 9-11pm ET/PT): It's 2008, and in the face of California's Proposition 8 stripping away the right of gays and lesbians to marry, a newly energized Cleve inspires a younger generation to organize a massive march on Washington D.C. to demand full, federal LGBTQ equality in all matters. Meanwhile Roma uses her lessons learned as a women's and LGBTQ activist to fight for healthcare for all in San Francisco. And as Ken struggles to reconcile his sexual orientation with his love of God, he recruits his old friend Cecilia Chung, now a health commissioner, to get the city to help fund a meal program for one of the first LGBTQ inclusive churches in the nation. With newfound political pull, Cleve joins a rag-tag group of activists attempting to overturn California's discriminatory Prop 8 at the U.S. Supreme Court. Ken finds his calling in helping bridge the gay/straight religious divide, and Roma defies her youthful distaste for the institution of marriage and proposes to the woman she's loved for decades, Diane. In the end, all of their fates hang on the decision of nine justices in the nation's highest court, Guest starring are Phylicia Rashad as Yvette Flunder, Debra Winger as Justice Kagan, Henry Czerny as David Boies, Ivory Aquino as Cecilia Chung, Matthew Del Negro as Mayor Newsom, Mary McCormack as Roberta Kaplan, T.R. Knight as Chad Griffin, Todd Weeks as Tom Ammiano, Arliss Howard as Ted Olson, Rob Reiner as Mr. Blankenhorn, Pauley Perrette as Robin, Richard Schiff as Judge Walker.

Plus, on Thursday, March 2 from 8-9pm ET/PT, ABC premiered "The People Behind the Story," a one-hour documentary that chronicles the personal and political struggles, setbacks, and triumphs of a diverse family of LGBTQ people who helped pioneer the U.S. Civil Rights struggle. The documentary will recount the true stories and history of the gay rights movement through the actual voices of the people who inspired the mini-series: Cleve Jones, Roma Guy, Ken Jones, Diane Jones and Cecilia Chung. The special also features interviews with the actors that portray them throughout the series. Hearing from the people who lived through this historic event coupled with the actors gives viewers a fresh, personal and unprecedented perspective of their inspiring journey.


Production & Distribution

  • Produced by ABC Studios