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Chris Kawasaki

Chris Kawasaki


Today's young gay leaders represent the largest cultural shift in a generation. Here are some high achievers who aren't hung up on their sexuality and are determined to make a difference

When Chris Kawasaki first arrived at Exodus International eight years ago, he hoped the group would teach him how to be attracted to women and be "normal" again. His mother, who had divorced his father when Chris was 11, had home-schooled him until he was 14; they were incredibly close, and for the three weeks since Chris had been kicked out of his evangelical Christian high school, she had been nothing but supportive.

Exodus was another matter.

"They tell you up front, 'We don't teach you to like women,' " he says. "It just dawned on me at that point: What do I do? Do I not love anyone my entire life? It made no sense to me." After a second 90-minute session that went nowhere, Chris slumped back into his mother's car, drowning in the shame that he couldn't change.

He confessed his dilemma, and she flipped out.

Chris's computer was taken. His room was searched. He was told that no gay people would ever be allowed in his family's house. To his mother, it was as if Chris had mutated into an entirely new person, a stranger--which was, in its way, fitting, since Chris realized that this was most certainly how he would feel in that house for the rest of his life: like a stranger.

What made all of this doubly painful and difficult for Chris was that he felt like he was entering terrifyingly foreign territory without a map.

"I don't think there's enough gay role models," he says. "There are political figures, but they're not necessarily representative of the overall population. Barney Frank is obviously vocal in a certain way, but that's one in 535 congressmen. Even in the media you see people backing off. There's diversity, but there's no courageous 'Look, I'm OK. I can do this; you can do this.' "

So Chris set out to be his own role model, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. Last year he started pursuing a master's degree in public policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government; now 23, he has a goal of becoming a powerful aide to a president.

Chris--as well as Sol Kelly-Jones--was awarded a scholarship this spring from the Point Foundation, which specializes in scholarships for GLBT students. Vance Lancaster, the foundation's executive director, was impressed with Chris, and he underscores that from his standpoint, Chris's experience is most likely more the rule for his generation than the exception. Lancaster points to a 700% increase in applications since the foundation launched in 2002, which he's convinced is not exclusively due to an increased awareness of the program.

"I also think it's an indication that there are still significant problems for gay and lesbian people who are growing up and coming out earlier," Lancaster says.

"I think there are pockets of acceptance. I think there are also pockets, maybe even larger pockets, where it's still a much rougher road for young [GLBT] kids."

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