What a difference a few years make. The ‘70s are ending, and with them, so are the good times. Young Cleve, Ken, Roma, and Diane are making a difference, but the question is whether they can fight something they can’t even comprehend. “The truth is, we’re not done yet.”
Roma Guy & Diane Jones (no relation to Cleve… or Ken)
As promised (and directed by history), by 1977, Roma and the Women’s Centers ladies have been able to create the first ever women’s building, with Roma cycling all over the country (especially to places where gay rights were becoming major talking points) to raise money for the cause. (Check out that “Roma Rides for the Revolution” shirt. Then eat your heart out, Forrest Gump, you fictional character.) Roma even makes a stop in Maine to visit her family, and it seems that she’s pushed past her dread at being honest with them about her identity.
She and her father verbally spar about the fact that the women’s building is essentially a club only for women, even though Roma points out that the Knights of Columbus, which he is a part of, is an all-male group that excludes women — and the women’s building isn’t anti-men. It’s just not the building’s purpose, though it is part of the appeal for many of the women there. If there’s anything “Part II” makes clear, it’s that the undercurrent of the movement hasn’t really changed. But Roma is still Roma, as she argues that “[her] work is [her] focus, to the exclusion of all other things.” Later on, Roma’s mother asks her point blank if she was happy as a child and if she’s happy “with this life” — and if the latter is even possible. She also tells Roma that she knew her daughter was a lesbian long before she came out, “way before your father suspected.” This is definitely better than Cleve had things.
Roma eventually returns home to San Francisco (probably with amazing leg strength), and while everyone back at the women’s building is happy to have her back, no one’s happier than Jean. As it turns out, after Diane showed up in San Francisco, Roma made the decision to stay with Jean. A bunch of the women (including Diane) are living together in a house, so things are especially awkward when Diane announces that she wants to turn the spare room into a nursery… because she wants to have a “turkey baster baby.” Roma’s immediate response is that she’s not ready to be a mom, and she wants to know why Diane wants this “all of a sudden,” but nobody asked Roma to be a mom, mind you. And that’s fine by Diane, since she knows Jean doesn’t want to be a mom either, and Roma and Jean are a package deal. For all their talk of breaking the mold, Diane says she can’t see anything more “mold breaking” than having a baby without male interference. And just because Roma has trouble when it comes to reading situations doesn’t mean that this is “all of a sudden.” Diane is going to get herself some sperm.
Anyway, all of this will be a moot point if California passes Proposition 6, a byproduct of “failed beauty pageant queen” and anti-gay spokeswoman Anita Bryant’s heavily publicized campaign in Florida. Introduced by State Senator John Briggs, Prop 6 would allow for the legal termination of any public school teacher for being gay, as well as the same punishment for straight allies (such as straight women who associated with the women’s building. For Pat (Whoopi Goldberg), when she came out, the government tried to take her kids away; if Prop 6 passes, things will only get worse from there. So now that Roma sees a cause in all this, she tells Diane she’ll support her baby decision and that they’ll fight for her right to be a mother. Yet again, this requires Roma and the women to work with Cleve and their gay male brothers, which now means supporting Harvey Milk for county supervisor (instead of the female candidate, Rita George, in what Roma originally calls a “patriarchal electoral sham”). Roma offers to help Cleve and Anne (Britt Irvin), Harvey’s campaign manager, with the contacts and space for a statewide fight, and while she sees how this might tear about their women’s movement (because of the aforementioned anti-men “separatists”), Roma admits she doesn’t see any other way for them to move forward.
So come election time Harvey Milk is elected as county supervisor, and the new board of county supervisors are even a diverse bunch (except for former cop Dan White), and things look good for San Francisco with a progressive mayor in the form of George Moscone. But the fight against Prop 6 is still far from over, and now that Roma is allowing men to work in the women’s building to help in this fight, some of the anti-men members head for the hills (in a time when they need unity the most). Aside from some bathroom issues (because one dude is too dumb to just make a new sign), the team-up is working, and they start going door-to-door to small towns in California to get people to listen. And after going door-to-door in Fresno, Roma and Diane rekindle their romance — a decision that leads Jean to propose all three of them embark in a relationship together. Unlike when Sally proposed the same to Roma and Jean in “Part I,” Roma is on board with this. But on a night of celebration as Prop 6 loses the vote, Diane tells Roma that she’s pregnant — and she only wants to raise the baby with Roma, not Roma and Jean. Roma of course makes it all about the mission (“Jean and I. We still have a lot of work to do.”), but Diane explains the obvious: You can work and love, dummy. She doesn’t call her “dummy,” but it’s certainly in the subtext. “I just can’t see myself ever being a mother,” she tells Cleve. “Or having a family.” He attempts to assuage her fears by suggesting that “maybe we’re here for something bigger than ourselves.”
But after the vote, after 20 days feeling like winners for a change, the other shoe drops as Dan White assassinated Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk… and got off on manslaughter thanks to a straight white jury and the “Twinkie defense.” So in the aftermath of the riots, Roma writes to her mother, finally attempting to answer whether or not she’s happy: And the answer is that she still doesn’t know. “Not yet. Not until we have a place to call home. Where we’re safe. And that fight is far from over.”
1981, of course, proves just how far that fight is from over. Diane has her daughter now (Annie), and she’s doing it all by herself, just like she said she would. And that means no more having Roma come over with the rest of the women — because if Diane is going to get over Roma and focus on raising her daughter and working her new job as a nurse at the hospital, she needs Roma not to be around. So Roma gives Diane space, and Diane gets to focus on the important things in her life: like trying to treat the new epidemic that’s plaguing the San Francisco gay community. In a somewhat needless scare for the audience, Diane accidentally pricks herself with a needle that had been inside a “gay cancer” (that’s what they called it) patient, but it sparks her decision to step up in order to try to save the day against “homophobia disguised as caution” (when it comes to the lack of resources and help they currently have with this) and to help “build a San Francisco standard of care.”
Unfortunately, women like Del (Rosie O’Donnell) are initially of no help in this fight, saying it’s no surprise considering the promiscuous gay male lifestyle — and even with Pat mentioning how people are dying, Del fires back that gay men aren’t exactly up in arms about women dying from breast cancer. Luckily, Pat also brings up that women and children are just as likely to suffer if this disease is transmitted sexually. Diane then goes to the women and Roma for help — after Ken snaps at her for the women only being “family” when it’s “politically helpful” — and oh boy. Or oh girl. Time and a little success (and maybe a little bit of Diane’s rejection) has suddenly turned Roma into a pessimist, responding to Diane’s pleas for help (as “every traditional support system has turned its back on these men”) with the epidemic with questions about money. After Diane snaps back at her (sarcastically calling her “Ms. Visionary Roma Guy”), Roma goes to the hospital to yell at Diane for embarrassing her at her work.
The irony is lost on Roma, but she’s too busy assuming that Diane’s problems are all based on unresolved relationship issues rather than the actual matter at hand. (Apparently, Roma sent her version of love letters to Diane post-Togo, and since Diane didn’t respond, that’s why she moved on. But Diane fires back about how the letters were just weird professional updates — “Diane, I had an interview with N.O.W. today. They bought me a Caesar salad!” — which sounds exactly like the Roma we know. Diane eventually gives Roma her journal from the Peace Corps days so she can know what a love letter really looks like.) Roma changes that tune, though, as soon as she sees all of the patients suffering from G.R.I.D., and that gets her and the women helping their brothers again.
After Roma reads Diane’s journal, she realizes what she lost and what she could have had if she’d just realized she could have both the work and the relationship. Again, Diane already knew that (we all already knew that), so she takes Roma back. Again, When We Rise can’t be all sadness, and this is “Part II”’s happy ending.
NEXT: Cleve Jones