By Anna Peirano
Zach Wahls didn’t intend to become one of the leading voices of his generation, advocating equality. He didn’t think he’d one day step onto the stage at the Democratic National Convention. He didn’t know what was in store for him the day he chose to speak in a courtroom in Iowa in defense of love, family, and the definition of normal.
And yet, despite everything Zach Wahls didn’t mean to, think, or know he’d do – he’s done it all, and a great deal more. Read dot429’s exclusive interview with the LGBT ally who put a face, and a family, on a campaign to end discrimination.
The video of your testimony went viral on YouTube. What was running through your head when you saw the public’s reaction?
“This is crazy! What the hell?! This is SO crazy! Gahhhh!” was my first reaction when things really got going. Then it was, “Oh my God. I am in so far over my head. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. What am I going to do? This is crazy. This is way, way too much.” After I caught my breath, though, and got my feet back underneath me, it was, “Alright. This is crazy. I have the opportunity of a dozen lifetimes to make a change in the world. This is amazing. Let’s use it.”
You have been on the front lines for many current issues. Why is it more important than ever to make our voices heard and stand up for what you believe in?
Indeed. Well, frankly, there are simply more people alive now than ever before, so I think it follows that the policies that affect us are having greater and more meaningful effect than ever. So part of it is simple math. But I also think that when you look at the technological capabilities that our generation possesses, the power we have to be the change has never been greater. And as that awesome uncle once observed: with great power comes great responsibility.
When you look back on your work so far, what do you feel, for you personally, has had the most significant impact?
Obviously the original video that started all of this has been huge. 20,000,000 views on YouTube and counting. That being said, I think it’s really when I have the opportunity to get out and speak to folks that I can make the biggest impact. The following is adopted from a piece I published in the Advocate earlier this year:
This took place in early February of this year. I had woken up at 4:30 a.m. to catch the first flight out of Eastern Iowa so I could be in central Michigan for my talk that evening. As far as talks go, it was a good one. High energy, great turnout—laughter at my jokes and solemn silence as I explained the struggles of early adolescence—a standing ovation when I finished.
After the Q&A and after the mingling, there was only one person left: a young woman my age, who had waited patiently through it all. We’d exceeded our time limit in the auditorium, so we made our way to the lobby, and she explained that she had “recently come to terms with the fact that [she’s] a homosexual.” Now it was my turn to be shocked. I had never heard someone refer to herself like that. But I simply nodded.
She took a deep breath, trembling, trying to maintain her composure.
“I always knew I had been different,” she said. “Since I was a little girl, even. And I thought for the longest time I’d never be able to have children—was told I couldn’t. But after listening to you tonight I…” she trailed off, looking away. I realize in retrospect that she simply couldn’t believe she was able to say what she was about to tell me. “I can be a mom.” I’m not a particularly emotional guy, but my heart caught in my throat. With a deep exhale, I wrapped her up in a hug, me on the verge of tears, her crying. It was a profound, beautiful, and terrifying moment.
Can you tell us a little more about the book, “My Two Moms”?
My Two Moms is about my family and what my life was like growing up in Iowa with my two moms. (Surprise!) Each chapter is an examination of one of the twelve values in the Scout Law from Boy Scouts. (Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean and Reverent.) From my perspective as an Eagle Scout, I examine how those have affected my life and how they’re affecting this debate on LGBTQ rights.
What’s in store for you in the coming months, both with your own business ventures and with your work as an LGBT ally?
I’m spending a little less time on business stuff and more time on advocacy stuff. Recently, I started Scouts for Equality in an effort to end the BSA’s anti-LGBT policy. I’m also quite involved with some campaigning around the country. I’ll be home for 48 hours between now (9/27) and election day.
Favorite: artist? writer? movie? place to be?
I’m really in to hip hop. Big fan of the Roots, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar. My favorite non-fiction writers/pundits are Ezra Klein and Will Wilkinson. Chris Hayes is doing some great work, too. Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is my favorite fiction writer. I’m a huge Christopher Nolan fan. He’s directed all kinds of awesome movies. Casablanca, though, is probably up there as number one. And I like being home in Iowa City. As much as I love traveling and doing the work I do, nothing quite beats going home.