When she was just
10 years old, Sol Kelley-Jones remembers, she piled
into a yellow school bus with her two moms and a couple
hundred other gay rights activists and traveled from
her hometown of Madison, Wis., to the conservative
town of Wausau.
The Republican-controlled state legislature was
holding hearings there on a bill against same-sex
marriage, and Tammy Baldwin, then an out lesbian
member of the state assembly (and now a U.S. congresswoman)
had asked Sol’s moms, Sunshine Jones and Joann
Kelley, if their daughter would give the opening
testimony at the hearings.
In fifth grade she joined the national board of
Children of Lesbians and Gays Everywhere,or COLAGE,
and she quickly formed a local chapter based in
Madison. This month she graduates from Malcolm Shabazz City
High School, an alternative school Sol chose for her
senior year specifically so she could engage in more
activism. She plans to attend Hampshire College in the fall.
In the time between, Sol proudly says that
she’s been “continuing to speak out at
the state level, the city level, the school board, and
across all different governmental bodies.” Her words
spill out with a breathless enthusiasm. At 18 she is
as conversant in the vocabulary of the modern GLBT
rights movement as any grad student of queer studies. She
even makes the point of differentiating between having a
queer cultural identity, which she’d lived her
whole life, and her queer, or
“person-specific,” sexual identity, which
she’s felt obligated to be open about ever
since she had her first crush on a girl in high school.
In a way, though, Sol has never really come out,
seeing as she’s never really been in the closet
to begin with.
From when she was just 5 years old, she can
remember this ubiquitous question from classmates,
from the press, even from the eyes of strangers who
regarded her family in a restaurant: “So what is your
sexual orientation?” Until COLAGE, she was the
only child of openly gay parents she knew, but to
silently tolerate the inequities she and her parents
have faced her whole life would have been intolerable.
Activism, speaking out, taking a public stand on
her beliefs no matter how unpopular they
are—it’s all Sol has ever known. She calls it
her “beautiful burden.” Both Sol and her
mother Sunshine talk at length about the often
crushing demand, even (or really, especially) from within
the gay family community, to be a “perfect
family” and to raise a healthy, straight daughter.
orientation is fluid,” Sunshine Jones, 53, exclaims
with measured incredulity, “it’s like,
How do you give them what they want?” Jones is
speaking of her daughter’s person-specific
orientation, a description that both prefer to the
term bisexual, which, Jones explains, “feels
too binding. See, her friends are kids who don’t
identify as male or female in the queer community, and
some of the people that she’s been drawn to,
they don’t feel like they fit one of those [gender] categories.”
Sol has known these out queer kids in both her
new and old high schools, from gay-straight alliances,
during rehearsals with her queer youth drama troupe
Proud Theater. Even the middle schools in Madison have
started gay-straight alliances, something far removed
from her experiences while in junior high.
“That was the time when I counted before lunch 32
different mean names used to describe gay and lesbian
people,” she says. “It was
‘faggot’ and ‘gaywad’ and
‘lesbo’ almost every other world. It was
an intense, intense environment."