Internet sensation Zach Wahls discusses gay rights

By Gretchen Andersen

Zach Wahls just likes to call it marriage.

“My moms aren’t gay married. I don’t come… Zach Wahls just likes to call it marriage.

“My moms aren’t gay married. I don’t come home and say, ‘Oh! My gay moms are home.’ They don’t live in a gay house or drive a gay car,” Wahls said.

Zach Wahls’ remarks were part of his hour-long lecture, “What Makes a Family,” on Thursday night in the O’Hara Student Center. Rainbow Alliance and Pitt’s Talk About It campaign co-sponsored the event, and had support from Panther Well, Healthy U, Pitt’s University Counseling Center and Active Minds.

Wahls became an Internet sensation after testifying in the Iowa House of Representatives on Jan. 31, 2011, during a public forum for the House Joint Resolution 6, a resolution proposing an amendment in Iowa’s constitution that would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman. There, he spoke about marriage equality and his own upbringing by two lesbian moms.

Two days after his testimony, his video on YouTube went viral with more than 2 million hits. Today, the speech has more than 16 million hits.

Wahls, who travels around the country to tell his story while juggling engineering classes at the University of Iowa, spoke about how the LGBTQ community today faces marriage restrictions similar to the ones interracial couples faced 50 years ago.

He said that he was conceived when Terry, his mother, used artificial insemination in 1990. Wahls said he does not want to meet his biological father.

Growing up with two moms hasn’t negatively affected him in any way, he said, although he confessed it had made him a little more considerate.

“I’m really good at putting the seat down,” Wahls said. “And I can ask for directions.”

He said that his mothers instilled him with courage, discipline and strength — values that are not exclusively masculine, he said.

“I didn’t have a dad, but I don’t think that was an emotionally traumatizing experience,” Wahls said. “Having a mom and dad is not vital to everyone’s success.”

But in middle school, students called him names like “faggot.” Wahls noted a lot of teenagers are rejected by their family when they come out, and are often told they are perverted or have a mental disorder.

“More than 40 percent of all homeless kids in this country are LGBT,” Wahls said, also noting the high suicide rate among LGBT teens.

“The reason there is such a high suicide rate among LGBT teens is because they are told there is something wrong with them.”

Wahls concluded his speech by telling the audience to reflect on the words they use with the people around them, whether they know them or are a stranger passing by.

Pitt freshman Sarah Khalbuss said Wahls’ speech was organic and passionate.

“I saw his video in 2011 and I watched the video again, and I was so moved by it,” Khalbuss said.

Tricia Dougherty, president of Rainbow Alliance and organizer of the event, said she was impressed with the nearly 400-person turnout.

“His speech was great. I enjoyed hearing the perspective of a child who has LGBT parents. There was a stronger message, a message of ‘Don’t mess with my moms,’” Dougherty said. “It was very normalizing and extremely powerful.”

Michael Deckebach, a chairperson for Talk About It, said that Wahls’ speech could help change people’s attitudes toward the LGBTQ community.

“I think there is a lot of value in what he said about how we all play a big role — the language we use, attitude and actions we have. We are empowered to make a positive change in the world,” he said.