When We Rise…

We were excited last week to see the ABC miniseries When We Rise, which chronicles the campaign for LGBTQ equality over the decades–through the eyes of three activists, including our longtime board member and former board president Roma Guy. Beyond her significant advocacy for LGBTQ rights, Roma serves on our board for the California Women’s Agenda, but also had been active in the National Organization for Women, founded the Women’s Building in San Francisco, and served for 12 years on the Health Commission City and County of San Francisco.


Her story, played by Emily Skeggs and Mary-Louise Parker, is so impressive that websites asked if Roma Guy was a real person–which she most certainly is. We have been honored to have her insight and heart and guidance at our board meetings for at least the fifteen years I have served at Executive Director, and the miniseries by Dustin Lance Black gives you a sense of the depth of her commitment and smarts and savvy.

Even without Roma’s starring presence, the miniseries was of great interest to us– beyond the fact that Health Access staffs and hosts the California LGBT Health and Human Services Network. It was a kick to see the portrayal of not just Roma but other notable figures in California politics: state legislators like Tom Ammiano and Carol Midgen, former SF Mayor and now Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, and Los Angeles County Health Director Mitch Katz, who previously served that role in San Francisco.

Beyond the personalities, I was struck by how the series detailed the many strategy debates within a movement–even how the same activists go back & forth on the inside-outside militant-pragmatic spectrum. It had resonance for those who fight for health reform.

Also for health advocates, the fourth and final Act is worth watching, which ends with the court battle on gay marriage, but include Roma Guy’s involvement in the campaign to win Healthy San Francisco, a universal health care program in the city. The details are changed significantly (for example, suggesting that labor unions needed to be convinced of the program, when in fact they helped lead the effort, starting with the vote for the Prop 72 employer mandate in 2004), but I appreciated that Healthy SF was spotlighted–both to fill out Roma’s story of not just being a warrior for women or the LGBT community but health justice broadly, and to underline the series ethos of “One Struggle. One Fight.”

Roma’s life–and the series that depicts it–is a great reminder that the we are in this together.