When Aiko Jones first met her fiancée, she said they could never date. As an elite college athlete from a well-known sports family in conservative Jamaica, where homosexuality is still illegal, Jones thought that coming out would never be possible for her.
There was too much risk, and too much for everybody to lose. But then something unexpected happened.
Jones started falling in love.
Today, Aiko and Carolann are happily engaged. Aiko proposed to Carolann on her birthday to show she was invested in their relationship for the long haul. They’ve already met each other’s parents, and post liberally on social media.
Being free is just so much better.
“I found this amazing partner,” Jones told Outsports. “I know I want to spend the rest of my life with her, and it’s not fair to ask her to live in secret. I think she’s great. It’s not fair for the world to hide her from the world, either.”
Jones, who’s preparing for her redshirt senior season on Louisville’s women’s volleyball team, is one of the best players in her conference. Last season alone, she was named to the Final Four All-Tournament team, the All-Louisville Regional team and the All-ACC First Team.
She’s accumulated 1,095 kills throughout her four-year career, and was credited with a whopping 401 points last season.
Jones’ volleyball skills come in the family. Her mother represented Jamaica on the national team, and her father coached the island’s national club. Her dad also ran track at Nebraska, prompting Jones to visit the Cornhusker State when she was looking at schools.
She wound up settling at Louisville, where she instantly felt comfortable.
But that didn’t mean she was ready to come out.
Jones knew she was gay from a young age. She hated getting dressed up, often opting for cargo pants or white tank-tops.
But growing up in Jamaica, she thought coming out wasn’t an option.
“I grew up watching news stories of gay men who got stoned and lived under bridges because they couldn’t go home,” she said. “I wasn’t going to say anything about it. I was just going to live, and see what happened.”
That’s what Jones did, and she eventually found herself secretly dating her best friend. When her mother found out, they spoke briefly, and then Jones says she “pretended like it never happened.”
From there, Jones further suppressed her sexuality.
“I was gonna be the single aunt who takes all of her nieces and nephews on trips, and I’m gonna be fun,” she said. “It was never an issue for me thinking about how to come out, because I never thought I would have to.
“At home I had a reputation, and knowing so many people, and my parents knowing so many people, I was just like, ‘I can’t come out, because it’s going to affect my parents’ lives, it’s gonna affect my grandparents’ lives. Too many people know us in the public eye.”
Jones was excited for her new life in the U.S., where she was the proverbial small fish in a big pond. But that changed quickly around campus: it’s hard to be anonymous when you’re a volleyball superstar.
Early in her college career, Jones actually dated a boy. On the rare occasions she was asked about her sexuality, she demurred: Jones would say she was into boys.
But she wouldn’t say she was only attracted to boys, either.
This tenuous balancing act ended when Aiko met Carolann. The more they hung out, the more she started to fall for her. So, Aiko started her coming out process.
It began with a private Snapchat story, to which she added her teammates one-by-one. They offered nothing but support.
“I knew if I at least had them, if everybody else decided to hate me, I would be OK,” she said.
Then she told her teammates’ parents, who routinely attend games.
“Then I was like, ‘OK, now I can tell my parents, because I would at least have a house to live in if my parents disown me,’” she said. “This was my thought process: ‘I need to know if I can run to people if I need to, because I’m scared.’”
As it turns out, none of Jones’ contingency plans were necessary. While she told her mother over the phone, she was still leery of telling her father, who she says is more formal.
So Jones sent him an email, and waited for his response. When it came, she was overjoyed.
“He said, ‘I raised you all to make your own decisions and be independent,’” she said. “I’m a big daddy’s girl, so that meant a lot to me.”
Going home was no longer a scary prospect. That Christmas, Aiko even brought Carolann to Jamaica so she could meet her family.
“It was a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders,” she said.
The outpouring of support that Jones experienced expanded far beyond her family, friends and teammates. When she made her post on National Coming Out Day, she started fielding messages from other young LGBTQ athletes.
Now, playing volleyball carries a higher purpose for Jones than winning matches or padding stats. It’s about being an example.
“Having the parents and younger athletes just saying, ‘You have done something for us, and more for us than you would even know,’ I thought to myself, ‘If I were gonna do this, I might as well do this,’” she said. “I think one of my purposes on this earth is to create change and influence some positive change in the world.”
“Part of it was learning to not be ashamed of being part of the LGBTQ community,” said Jones. “Growing up, it was my deepest, darkest secret, and now that I’ve come out, I’m not afraid.”
You can follow Aiko Jones on Instagram.