Activist instills family values at Eastern

By Paul Sell, Staff Writer

Photo by: Nic Olson
Zach speaks about his experience having two moms and how that had an impact on his life and led him to where he is today.

The atmosphere is light and friendly with banter and hugs as Zach Wahls approaches the EWU stage to discuss his life experience and position on the daunting issue of same-sex marriage.

“What people seem to forget is the phrasing of the word marriage,” said Wahls. “It’s not just gay marriage, it’s marriage. My moms are not my gay moms, they’re my moms.”

In 1991, Wahls was conceived through artificial insemination by his biological mother, Terry Wahls. Four years later, Terry Wahls met Jackie Reger, and the two held a commitment ceremony in 1996. Yet, because of the Wisconsin State law, Terry Wahls and Reger could not legally be married, even when his family moved to Iowa when he was 9 years old.

In 2011, Zach Wahls was given his chance to speak up when the Iowa Supreme Court allowed for the public to voice their feelings and concerns on same-sex marriage. Zach Wahls, a college student at the time, delivered his speech to the Supreme Court and told the story of being raised by a lesbian couple and turning out just fine.

“If people could listen to what [Zach Wahls] has to say, I think it would destroy lots of ignorance surrounding gay rights,” said Chelsea Romani, an EWU student who attended the event.

Zach Wahls’ speech was quickly posted on Youtube where it went viral and garnered much praise and applause. The video currently has over 17 million views and was the most watched political video of 2011. This landed him interviews on most major news outlets, including MSNBC, CNN and even the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

When Zach Wahls began touring colleges across the country, he felt that the overall message that he wanted to leave students with was to “treat people the way that you want to be treated.”

He instilled this message by telling the intimate crowd of Eastern students how the debate of gay marriage has progressed, which is driven by the fear and horror of what is different, leading to people using labels to shrink terrifying movements down to size. However, these people neglect to notice that labels alienate people.

In turn, this only leads to hateful and negative discussions, which Zach Wahls believes is the opposite of what should occur.

“When we stop having positive discussion, we go backwards,” he said. “Fear and labels are holding people back. The only way to get respect is to give respect.”

Zach Wahls’ message resonated with many members of the audience, including Marissa Pamatigan, a veteran coordinator for the event. She said that one of her coworker’s life was changed by Zach Wahls’ words, leading Eagle Entertainment to book him to speak at Eastern during Pride Week.

“His focus on the phrasing of gay marriage being just marriage really stuck with me,” said Pamatigan. “Anyone who wasn’t here really missed out on a huge topic in today’s politics.”

Zach Wahls is currently working on a campaign to remove the ban on homosexuals within the Boy Scouts of America. While the organization has agreed to meet in May to discuss lifting the ban on gay youth, he feels that his mission is not finished until all discriminations against homosexuals has been removed from the Boy Scouts of America.

For Zach Wahls, family is the drive that influences him across the nation to discuss these issues. In 2009, when Iowa legalized same-sex marriage, he was the best man at the wedding of his parents, where the couple walking down the aisle was accompanied by the theme of “Star Trek: Voyager.”

“I hope that one day, we’ll be able to live in a world where everyone says, ‘I don’t care who you are, I care about the content of your character,’” said Zach Wahls.