Zach Wahls redefines what it means to be a family

Zach, Terry and Jackie Wahls

Zach Wahls lit up YouTube last year with his speech to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in favor of same-sex marriage. Wahls is understandably passionate about the issue: He was raised in Iowa, with his biological sister, by a lesbian couple. His powerful conclusion that “the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero effect on the content of my character” drew legions of supporters and fans, and the now-20-year-old is sharing his experiences in a new book, “My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family” (out Thursday). He spoke with Metro about his journey thus far.

How did your speech in front of the Iowa House of Representatives come about?

In 2009, I was the columns editor for my high school newspaper. That spring the Supreme Court rules in this unanimous decision in Iowa to legalize same-sex marriage. I was really happy about that, so I wrote a column that was noticed by the law firm that had litigated Varnum v. Brien, the lawsuit that resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Iowa. I met the communications director, and I didn’t hear from her for a year. Then, all of a sudden, I got a Facebook message, an
e-mail and a phone call on a Thursday afternoon saying, “There’s this hearing on Monday, can you make it?” So I wrote my testimony over the weekend and then showed up on Monday night. By Wednesday, the video was starting to blow up. By Friday, the video was on its way to becoming the No. 1 YouTube political video of 2011. I still have difficulty wrapping my head around the whole thing sometimes.

Is your life much different now?

It is and it isn’t. I spend a lot less time actually at my apartment in Iowa City. I made some new friends, but I’m still hanging out with the same guys, doing the same things. In some ways things are different, but in the majority of ways that matter most, they’re the same.

Ellen DeGeneres called you a hero when you appeared on her show. How did that feel?

It’s a label that makes me kind of uncomfortable sometimes, but I think more to the point, it’s a testament to the values that my moms instilled in me and the effort they put in to raise my sister and me. I feel incredibly blessed to have the parents I have.

Has your father, with whom you don’t have a relationship, reached out to you since all this has happened?

He was an anonymous sperm donor. We don’t have any idea who he is — he doesn’t even know that we exist. I think it would certainly be interesting to meet him and learn more about him, but I don’t have any interest in seeking him out.

What do you hope readers take away from this book?

I hope people understand the love and commitment that my moms have for each other, but also the love and commitment that binds us as a family. My hope is that this book is able to serve as a reminder that we are more alike than different.

Why did you dedicate the book to your younger sister, Zebby?

I wanted her to know just how much she means to me and how important it was for me to have her along for the ride. But then also, more metaphorically, she’s one of the kids that I’m trying to talk to with this book. The reason I decided to write the book was because I think that there is misinformation, so many myths and stereotypes being perpetuated by some people, that other young kids who have LGBT parents need to know — that despite what some of the talking heads on TV might say, they aren’t damaged goods or child abuse victims or brainwashed or whatever. And that’s an important message I think to hear from one of us. Your parents are not gonna be the most unbiased forces, so I think having one of our own stand up and speak this truth, the power is really important.


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