'MY TWO MOMS'

Zach Wahls speaks out on new mem­oir, vi­ral video that made him fa­mous.

GA Voice - - Front Page - By RYAN WATKINS | rwatkins@the­gavoice.com

In Jan­uary 2011, then 19-year old Zach Wahls spoke be­fore the Iowa House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ahead of a vote that would have re­pealed same-sex mar­riage in the state. A video of his speech was uploaded to YouTube that evening, and in the hours and days that fol­lowed, Wahls found him­self thrust into the national gay rights de­bate.

Wahls has since worked on gay ac­cep­tance in the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica and has toured the coun­try, speak­ing to stu­dents in col­leges and high schools. He’s also writ­ten a New York Times best­seller, “My Two Moms,” which brings him to At­lanta for a June 27 read­ing at the Friends School, spon­sored by Charis Books & More and At­lanta Pride.

GA Voice spoke with Wahls about grow­ing up with two moms, his goals and as­pi­ra­tions for the fu­ture, and why it’s im­por­tant to put the toi­let seat down. GA Voice: My mom came out of the closet while I was in high school. Even then, some 15 years ago, the gay rights move­ment was on its heels af­ter years of po­lit­i­cal de­feats, and be­ing the child of a les­bian mom in the ru­ral South was sub­ject of ru­mor and taunts. What was your child­hood ex­pe­ri­ence like and how did it shape your view of fam­ily?

Grow­ing up in the semi-ru­ral up­per Mid­west is cer­tainly a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence than grow­ing up in ei­ther the deep South or ei­ther of the coasts. There’s a pretty strong “live and let live” men­tal­ity in our part of the coun­try.

I think part of it has to do with our in­cred­i­bly harsh win­ters and the agrar­ian roots from which we were all grown. If you get stranded in the mid­dle of a bliz­zard, it doesn’t mat­ter if the guy who pulls your trac­tor out of the ditch is a openly gay man or a de­vout con­ser­va­tive priest.

When that kind of in­ter­de­pen­dence is deeply in­stilled into your char­ac­ter, I think it’s hard for most folks to get too up­set, even when they dis­agree. That’s a long way of say­ing that while there were cer­tainly some other peo­ple and other fam­i­lies that dis­ap­proved of my par­ents and their “life­style choice,” it was never a huge deal in my day-to-day life.

There were kids who picked on me when I was in school, but dif­fer­ence is nearly al­ways danger­ous and it comes in all kinds of stripes and shades. And from that un­der­stand­ing, I think, I learned that fam­ily is what you be­lieve in.

It isn’t just a straight, legally mar­ried WASP cou­ple with two and a half kids, a dog and a white picket fence. A fam­ily is a group of peo­ple who love each other. Your ad­dress at a hear­ing of the Iowa House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee back in Jan­uary 2011 pro­pelled you into the national gay rights de­bate. Did you have any idea at the time that your speech could be­come a hall­mark mo­ment in the equal­ity move­ment?

Not at all. I had no idea that I was even be­ing recorded, let alone that it would be uploaded to YouTube. What’s been the best mo­ment fol­low­ing the video of your speech go­ing vi­ral? Your ap­pear­ances on “The Daily Show” and “Ellen” must have been a lot of fun.

De­pends on how you define “best,” I sup­pose. “The Daily Show” was absolutely coolest. I grew up watch­ing Jon Ste­wart break down the news as he lam­pooned politi­cians and hypocrisy, try­ing to help Amer­ica find hu­mor dur­ing the Bush II years. To ac­tu­ally meet him in per­son and to be on his show was a dream come true. The fact that he had ac­tu­ally read and en­joyed the book was ic­ing on the cake.

The 2012 Demo­cratic National Con­ven­tion is def­i­nitely a close sec­ond. But the most deeply per­sonal mo­ments have been the ones I’ve found as I’ve gone across the coun­try speak­ing at high schools and col­lege cam­puses.

There are too many to re­count here, but one evening ear­lier this spring, as I stepped up to give a talk in ru­ral Wis­con­sin not even 30 min­utes from where I was born, there was a folded piece of pa­per on the lectern.

I un­folded it as I be­gan to speak, and trailed off from my re­marks as I read it. There was just one word: “Hope.” Pow­er­ful stuff.

You’ve also been an ad­vo­cate for gay-in­clu­sion in the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica. Many in the LGBT com­mu­nity feel the re­cent rule change in al­low­ing openly gay scouts but not gay lead­ers is a hol­low vic­tory be­cause par­ents like Jennifer Tyrrell — the Ohio les­bian mom who was booted from the group over her sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion in 2012 — are still banned from par­tic­i­pat­ing. What do you think, and what is next on this is­sue?

Last year — al­most ex­actly a year ago, ac­tu­ally — I founded Scouts for Equal­ity, an alumni as­so­ci­a­tion of Boy Scouts ded­i­cated to end­ing the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica’s ban on gay youth and par­ents. We now rep­re­sent more than 7,000 Ea­gle Scouts who are com­mit­ted to end­ing this pol­icy. We absolutely agree that there’s more work to be done. As the son of a gay cou­ple, I was deeply torn when the BSA an­nounced that they’d only be vot­ing on this half mea­sure. It’s un­equiv­o­cally a step in the right di­rec­tion, how­ever, and in­di­cates, to us, that the BSA is open to hav­ing an­other con­ver­sa­tion on this is­sue.

We’re con­fi­dent that we’ll see a full end to the pol­icy within the next 18 to 24 months. Not ev­ery child of a les­bian mom works for an LGBT news­pa­per or has the op­por­tu­nity to ad­dress their elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives on is­sues like mar­riage. What ev­ery­day things can straight al­lies and chil­dren of gay and les­bian par­ents do to en­sure con­tin­ued progress in the equal­ity move­ment?

Frankly, those kinds (work­ing for an LGBT news­pa­per or speak­ing be­fore elected of­fi­cials) are a lot more com­mon than some peo­ple might think. It’s just im­por­tant to keep an eye out for them and to seize those op­por­tu­ni­ties when they do be­come vis­i­ble.

From a day-to-day per­spec­tive, though, I

of op­por­tu­ni­ties

In ‘My Two Moms,’ Zach Wahls re­counts grow­ing up in a les­bian fam­ily and his evo­lu­tion from Ea­gle Scout to LGBT rights ac­tivist. (Courtesy photo)

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