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Sol Kelly-Jones

Sol Kelly-Jones

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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 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.

"If your 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."

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