LGBT rights activist and University of Iowa student Zack Wahls speaks about his family and calls for “positivity” in the fight for marriage equality.
Providing a first-hand account of how Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender rights affects the lives of individuals like his two mothers, LGBT rights activist Zach Wahls spoke before a large group of Anteaters last Wednesday, May 8 during an event hosted by the UCI LGBT Resource Center. Speaking about his experiences growing up with two same-sex parents, and the importance of legalizing same sex marriage, Wahls drew a passionate crowd to the event.
On Jan. 31, 2011, Wahls, a then 19-year-old engineering student at the University of Iowa, spoke at the Iowa state legislature’s public forum, expressing what he defines as “family.” Wahls appeared before the chairman of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee to speak out against House Joint Resolution 6, which proposed to overturn the passage Iowa’s 2009 act granting same-sex couples the right to marry.
Within weeks, a video of Wahls’ speech was uploaded to YouTube and watched hundreds of thousands of times.
“This YouTube video is the reason why you are seeing a part-time engineering student, who is your age, speaking to you this evening,” Wahls said at the beginning of his presentation, before replaying the viral video that led to his subsequent appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres show and several news outlets.
As an Eagle Scout, Wahls always valued friendship and family, and at age 20 he co-founded Scouts For Equality, an advocacy organization that strives to reverse the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay youth and openly gay and lesbian scout leaders. His book “My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family,” tells the story of his upbringing in a loving, nurturing family, in which his parents were two women.
“Don’t let this beard fool you, I do know how to shave,” Wahls said.
Over the course of his hour-long presentation at UCI, Wahls discussed the history of marriage in the United States, including many statistics — 37 U.S. states may legally discriminate against LGBT individuals in the workplace. Wahls also recounted several memories from his childhood, including questions others have asked him upon learning of his parents’ sexual orientations, and his answers to these questions.
“‘Sanctity of marriage,’ means something different coming from politicians than it does from us,” Wahls said to the audience — citing President Clinton’s 1996 passage of the Defense Against Marriage Act, as an example.
Wahls ultimately argued for positivity among advocates of marriage equality. He explained that negative actions, coming from both sides of the fight for equal rights — Rick Santorum’s supposed “Assault on Marriage,” and the widespread protests of Chick-fil-A last summer — result mainly from fear and are a step in the wrong direction.
“If we succumb to the politics of fear and division, they will weigh us down,” he said.
Following his speech, Wahls remained to answer several questions from members of the student-audience.
“When you see organizations like ASUCI really backing this event, really supporting it, I think that gives a lot of hope to queer students, that their school supports them,” Kevin Tanaka, a student administrative intern at the UCI LGBT Resource Center, said.
“[The discussion on gay marriage] is good because it exposes a lot of people who may not be familiar with the LGBT movement,” Justin Lara, Irvine Queers President, said. “Everyone knows of it, but not everyone knows about it. It raises awareness. It’s something that people can get behind because everyone knows about marriage. But not everyone knows what goes into trans issues. Not everyone knows how much discrimination queer youth face.”
“This isn’t a conversation about gay marriage,” Wahls said. “It is a conversation about marriage.”