When 19-year old engineering student Zach Wahls got up to testify before the Iowa House of Representatives in February 2011, he had no idea what was in store for him. He spoke briefly and directly about his family and why he believes same-sex marriage, legal in Iowa since 2009, should remain protected by his state’s constitution. Video footage of his testimony immediately found its way onto Facebook where it was posted and reposted on hundreds of pages. By the next day, without his knowledge, Zach’s words and image had been uploaded onto YouTube and he’d become a national topic—over 1.5 million viewers within ten days.
Soon the polite and thoughtful sixth-generation Iowan was invited for appearances on MSNBC, CNN and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. MoveOn.org featured his testimony video which would go on to become the most-watched political video of the entire year, generating even more hits than President Obama’s address to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and Governor Rick Perry’s campaign launch. Google listed 18 million viewings by mid-December.
Energized by his new, and astoundingly sudden, emergence as a national advocate for marriage equality, Zach has continued speaking and is now writing My Two Moms about his life growing up with two lesbian parents. As he told Iowa legislators, he and his sister and their moms are, first and foremost, a family like any other, “eating dinner together, going to church” and defined by “the love we bear for each other.” For college audiences, he offers his insight into the challenges facing the LGBT community and explores the nature of family and what it means for the millennial generation. In professional settings, his presentation examines the relationship between the business community and LGBT communities and humanizes an issue too often lost in fogs of rhetoric and preconceived notions. He’s been described as someone “beyond his years” with a distinct grace for “moving others beyond theirs.” As Angie Akers, MoveOn Media editor-in-chief, notes about Zach, now and then someone comes along who is so “even-tempered and clearheaded” he can take a subject tied in knots and “just kind of cut right through.”