July 15, 1991
Marshfield, Wisconsin, U.S.
|Residence||Iowa City, Iowa|
|Parent(s)||Terry Wahls (mother)
Jackie Reger (mother)
Zach Wahls was conceived using artificial insemination and was born on July 15, 1991, to his biological mother Terry Wahls, an internal medicine physician. He has a younger sister who shares the same sperm donor and parents. Terry met Jackie Reger in 1995 and the two held a commitment ceremony in 1996. The family lived in Marshfield, Wisconsin, and moved when he was nine years old to Iowa City, Iowa. He was raised as a Unitarian Universalist and identifies himself as a member of that church.
He has said that having lesbian parents caused occasional problems during his school years when he found it difficult to explain to his peers or found that some of them were forbidden to socialize with him. He was sometimes teased and sometimes bullied because of his parents' relationship. In 2004, as an eighth grader, he first realized that there was political opposition to the sort of family in which he was raised while watching the Republican National Convention on television. In high school he wrote a series of columns for his high school newspaper about being raised by a lesbian couple. He played quarterback on the football team and participated in speech and debate. He graduated from Iowa City West High School in 2009. He entered the University of Iowa that fall, majoring in civil and environmental engineering.
While still a high school senior, following the Iowa Supreme Court decision in Varnum v. Brien that invalidated the state's ban on same-sex marriage, he wrote an op-ed piece in the Des Moines Register in which he advocated a complete separation of marriage from civil unions, calling for legislation "to completely remove government from the marriage process altogether, leaving a religious ceremony to religious institutions, and mak[ing] civil unions, accessible by any two people, including those of the same sex, the norm for legal benefits."
In 2009, while a college freshman, Wahls started his own small business, Iowa City Learns, that offers tutoring services to junior and high school students. He also studied for a time in India.
He was, in his own words, "not much of an activist" before he came to wide public attention in 2011, though he jokingly said he considered himself a "hipster Iowan" for supporting Barack Obama for president "before it was cool." He also wrote a weekly column for the Daily Iowan, a daily student newspaper.
On January 31, 2011, Wahls addressed the Iowa House Judiciary Committee in a public hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Iowa. A video of his testimony posted on YouTube went viral. It had more than 1.5 million views within two weeks and exceeded 15 million views by April 2012. The Economist described the hearing as "ineffectual conservative political theatre" and noted that "Whatever it was Iowa House Republicans were trying to achieve, it certainly wasn't to offer a soapbox to Zach Wahls, a 19-year-old engineering student at the University of Iowa." It introduced the video of Wahls's testimony with the words "This is what it looks like to win an argument."
Asked to assess his role in LGBT activism, he said in April 2011: "We've been having this conversation for almost 20 years and the actors are all kinda stale. The kids of gay families bring a new face and a new argument to the table." Though he emphasizes the change in support for LGBT equality from one generation to the next, he has described the problematic attitudes of his peers: "Even my best friends that know and love my parents still toss around faggot and gay like it's not really a big deal. In some ways my generation is real accepting, but we still have this casual homophobia, racism and sexism." On another occasion in May 2012 he explained his identification with the LGBT community:
To be clear, I don't consider myself an ally. I might be [a] straight cisgender man, but in my mind, I am a member of the LGBT community. I know the last thing that anyone wants is to add another letter to the acronym, but we need to make sure as a movement we're making a place for what we call "queer-spawn" to function and to be part of the community. Because even though I'm not gay, I do know what its like to be hated for who I am. And I do know what its like to be in the closet, and like every other member of the LGBT community, I did not have a choice in this. I was born into this movement.
In the fall of 2011 Wahls withdrew from college to focus on activism, writing a book, and promotional activities. His book, My Two Moms, describes the mundane impact of growing up in a household headed by two lesbians, like learning to tie a necktie from Playboy He has served as co-chair for "The Outspoken Generation," the Family Equality Council's national youth advocacy initiative involving the young adult children of LGBT parents. The Unitarian Universalist Association of Iowa City gave him its Courage of Love Award in April 2012. His book (with Bruce Littlefield), My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength, and What Makes a Family, was published in April 2012.
Officials at Canisius College twice canceled appearances by Wahls, one sponsored by the school's gay-straight alliance in April 2012 and another sponsored by the College Democrats in March 2013. He spoke there in April 2013 under the auspices of several academic departments, beginning his remarks by reading a statement on Catholic teaching on marriage and parenting as required by the school administration.
In May 2012, he led a group of advocates for LGBT causes in lobbying Congress in support of several pieces of legislation, including the Healthy Families Act, which would allow same-sex partners the same hospital visitation rights as married different-sex couples, and met with Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley.
An Eagle Scout, Wahls has targeted the Boy Scouts of America's (BSA) ban on gays and lesbians as scout leaders. On May 30, 2012, at the Boy Scout's National Annual Meeting in Orlando, Florida, wearing his Boy Scout uniform, he delivered petitions with 275,000 signatures in support of equality in scouts. Jennifer Tyrrell from Bridgeport, Ohio, who was forced to resign as a den mother because she is a lesbian, and then met with two of the organization's board members. He told MSNBC's Thomas Roberts that the signatures included many current and former scouts and scout leaders because "there is tremendous support within the boy scout movement already to change this policy and bring it up to date in the 21st century." He reported that his own mothers had no problem when they participated in his boy scout activities, and even when one of his mothers became a den mother and the other served as interim pack leader. In June, as co-founder of the initiative, he launched Scouts for Equality to lobby for a change in the BSA's policies.
In June 2012, Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, wrote an essay on how the public forms its impressions of gay parenting. She wrote that "our internal images of gay parenting ... are being formed by real or media generated images of what this phenomenon looks like that are not very similar to what is happening 'out there.'" She referenced Mark Regnerus's controversial study which purported to show that only a very small percentage of (what the study defined as) gay parents were in a long-term stable relationship. She stated the public's perception was not based on such data, but skewed by how the media covers the subject, which she called "the Zach Wahls effect," as a parallel to the supposed "Murphy Brown effect" for perceptions of single motherhood.
In September, Wahls delivered a speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in which he thanked President Obama for "put[ting] his political future on the line" in supporting same-sex marriage.
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- Time Out Chicago: Jason A. Heidemann, "Zach Wahls," April 20, 2011, accessed June 1, 2012
- New York Daily News: Lindsay Goldwert, "Mamas' boy: Lesbian couple's son speech goes viral," December 1, 2011, accessed June 1, 2012
- UU World: Zach Wahls, "How my testimony went viral," Winter 2011, accessed May 30, 2012
- Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier: Terri Schlichenmeyer, "Iowa author of 'My Two Moms' shows love is love," June 4, 2012, accessed June 4, 2012
- CNN: Piers Morgan Tonight: Defending Gay Marriage," April 26, 2012, accessed June 2, 2012
- Des Moines Register: Reid Forgrave, "Gay marriage defense on YouTube disrupts 'boring' life," February 4, 2011, accessed June 2, 2012
- Iowa Politics: Jason Clayworth, "Marriage testimony at Iowa Capitol making one teen a YouTube star," February 2, 2011, accessed June 1, 2012
- The Gazette: Diane Heldt, "UI freshman creates peer tutoring company for high school students," October 13, 2009, accessed May 30, 2012
- Iowa City Learns: History, accessed May 30, 2012
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- Campus Progress: Jessica Mowles, "Six Questions with Zach Wahls, Who Defended His Moms in Iowa's Legislature," February 18, 2011, accessed June 2, 2012
- Zach Wahls: Transcript of testimony, accessed May 30, 2012
- AOL News: Steven Hoffer, "Zach Wahls' Iowa Speech for Gay Marriage Goes Viral," February 2, 2011, accessed May 30, 2012
- Daily Beast: Zach Wahls, "Iowa Student Zach Wahls: Why I'm Defending My Two Moms," May 1, 2012, accessed June 2, 2012
- The Economist: "The Iowa House v Zach Wahls and his moms," February 4, 2011, accessed June 2, 2012. See also: The Economist: "The fallacy of careless contrarianism," February 8, 2011, accessed June 2, 2012
- Washington Blade: Phil Reese, "'That kid from YouTube'," May 23, 2012, accessed June 2, 2012
- Chicago Phoenix: Joseph Duggan Lyons , "Iowa’s Zach Wahls on activism, social media and marriage," May 31, 2012, accessed June 1, 2012
- NPR: Michel Martin, "When The Political Becomes Very Personal," May 8, 2012, accessed June 2, 2012
- Huffington Post: Zach Wahls To Co-Chair 'Outspoken Generation,' Gay Parents' Initiative For Adult Children, With Ella Robinson," April 6, 2012, accessed May 29, 2012. See also: MetroWeekly: Chris Geidner, ""Proud Son," May 15, 2012, accessed June 2, 2012
- "Unitarians to honor Zach Wahls," Iowa City Press-Citizen, April 17, 2012
- Gotham Books, 2012
- Hartinger, Jeffrey (April 20, 2012). "How the Jesuits Dance With LGBT Students". The Advocate. Retrieved July 21, 2012.
- Gorczyca, Matt (March 8, 2013). "Wahls lecture a no-go again". Canisius Griffin. Retrieved May 2, 2013.
- Brooks, Amy (19 April 2013). "Wahls Finally Welcomed". Canisius Griffin. Retrieved 2 May 2013.
- National Journal: Julia Edwards, "Activist With 2 Moms Hits Hill for Gay Rights," May 30, 2012, accessed May 30, 2012
- Huffington Post: "Zach Wahls, Kat Graham Petition Boy Scouts Of America On Ousted Lesbian Den Mom's Behalf ," May 30, 2012, accessed May 30, 2012
- Chicago Tribune: Barbara Liston, "Scout challenges anti-gay policy of Boy Scouts of America," May 30, 2012, accessed June 1, 2012
- Los Angeles Times: Laura J. Nelson, "Eagle Scouts to pressure Boy Scouts' ban on gay members, leaders," June 7, 2012, accessed June 8, 2012
- Corvino, John (June 11, 2012). "Are Gay Parents Really Worse For Children? How a New Study Gets Everything Wrong". New Republic. Retrieved November 14, 2013. Co-author with Maggie Gallagher of the book Debating Same-Sex Marriage.
- Gallagher, Maggie (June 12, 2012). "The Best or the Worst of All Possible Gay-Parenting Studies?". National Review. Retrieved July 23, 2012. She was drawing a parallel with the "Murphy Brown effect" that created the public image of a single mother circa 1990.
- Henderson, O. Kay (6 September 2012). "Iowan, at convention: "Mr. Romney, my family is just as real as yours"". Iowa Radio. Retrieved 7 September 2012.