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UI student becomes Internet sensation after defending gay parents

BY ALISON SULLIVAN | FEBRUARY 04, 2011 7:10 AM

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Zach Wahls has gone viral.

He’s spent his week fielding calls from the major news networks: Fox, ABC, MSNBC. He has 560 new Facebook friend requests — which he’s gotten a friend to help him sift through.

And the YouTube video of the speech that started all of it had approximately 564,000 views on Thursday. And that’s only the official video.

Thursday afternoon, sunlight poured in through the windows of the Seamans Center lobby onto a pacing Wahls. One hand was in his pocket, the other clutched a cell phone at his ear as he fielded questions from ABC News.

The 19-year-old University of Iowa engineering student and Daily Iowan columnist has instantly started picking up national — maybe even global — recognition for a three-minute speech he gave to the Iowa House of Representatives on Monday.

“It was supposed to be open and shut. That was it,” he told the DI Thursday.

But it became more, with Ellen DeGeneres and national news sites posting the video, which was the most viewed news-and-politics video on YouTube and the seventh most viewed overall Thursday.

Dressed in a gray suit and striped tie, Wahls told the representatives about being raised by two moms.

“You know, we’re Iowans. We don’t expect anyone to solve our problems for us,” Wahls said. “We’ll fight our own battles. We just hope for fair and equal treatment from our government.”

Wahls’ statement, during a public forum concerning the debate over a resolution, which would clear the way to banning gay marriage in Iowa, also listed his accomplishments — his 99th percentile ACT score, the small business he started, his Eagle Scout rank.

“If I was your son, Mr. Chairman, I believe I’d make you very proud,” he said.

The Iowa House Democrats captured Wahls’s speech and posted it on YouTube. Wahls and his family were instantly thrown into the spotlight.

“I’m very excited, very pleased,” said his biological mother, Terry Wahls, a UI clinical professor of internal medicine. “Pleased for the concept that they can see there are real people affected by this.”

In his speech, Zach Wahls said being raised by two mothers has had no “damaging” effect on his life. The “normalcy” of his childhood was like any other, attending church or going to Boy Scouts.

Wahls said he’s used to being outspoken but there’s a different quality that he is able to convey.

“The cool thing about speaking is you have the ability to wander,” he said.

The House passed the bill on Tuesday, 62-37, but one representative said Zach Wahls’ words deeply affected a few of his fellow colleagues.

“I literally watched the faces of some of my Republican friends in the chamber, and I could tell they were torn about how they were going to vote,” said Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, whose district includes the Wahls family. “What he did is eloquently put a face on the issue.”

Wahls said he didn’t anticipate the magnitude of his words. The morning after the public forum, he said his biggest concern was whether there was going to be a snow day. Then, his phone started to buzz.

Wahls said he fully realized the magnitude when celebrity blogger Perez Hilton posted the video on his blog.

“I’ve stopped shaking,” he said about the surrealism of his sudden fame.


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