Zach Wahls speaks about video going viral


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I was shaking, engulfed by an anxiousness experienced only by teenage girls about to see another Twilight movie and those about to testify in front of hundreds of people on behalf of their family. The speaker before me wrapped up her comments, and Rep. Richard Anderson, R-Clarinda, the chairman of the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, invited me to begin my remarks.

The rest, it seems, is on the Internet.

On my way back to Iowa City, I navigated a snow- and ice-encased I-80, listening to guests on the “Jim Bohannon Show” discuss ongoing developments in Egypt. I had no idea that over the next 72 hours, my brief, three-minute testimony on same-sex marriage to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee would be posted on YouTube, widely shared on Facebook, and critically hailed by the Internet.

Crazy, crazy times.

Cue the morning of Feb. 2, two days after my speech. I woke up, thrilled at the realization of a snow day, and got straight to relaxing. Then I received a Facebook message saying that Perez Hilton had just posted the YouTube video on his website. Then, an e-mail from an Indian college student I had met over winter break while studying in Delhi, saying he wanted to debate same-sex marriage. Then, phone calls from MSNBC, CBS, and ABC.

I thought I was nervous when I got up to the microphone. Turns out I had no idea what “nervous” even meant. By Wednesday night, the video had accumulated nearly 75,000 views, my family was scheduled for a live interview on national television the next evening, and I could not stop shaking. It was like that feeling you get before going on a date with the most attractive person you know — or what I imagine that feeling would be like — but in a bad way.

So much for a snow day.

The craziest thing to me is that, before Monday night, the sexual orientation of my parents had never been a big part of my life. As I mentioned in my testimony, nobody has ever independently realized that a gay couple raised me, and because I grew up in Iowa City, the people who did know didn’t care.

Sure, I was thrilled when the Iowa Supreme Court handed down its ruling on Varnum v. Brien, and obviously, I’ve got a vested interest in my family having the same legal rights, privileges and protections as other Iowa families. But if you compare my family with any other American family, we’re well within the standard deviation of the mean. And, even then, the sexual orientation of my parents is a tiny portion of the things that do make us different.

To be suddenly thrust in the limelight for something that, in my mind, is pretty insignificant is bizarre. At the same time, it’s been an incredibly humbling experience. The outpouring of support and solidarity is overwhelming. I had this feeling on Thursday of being incredibly safe, even though I didn’t realize that before I’d felt any different — I mean, I hadn’t.

And although I already had a tremendous amount of faith in our generation, the stories I’ve been told over the last five days, via Facebook, e-mail and in person, have renewed and even increased that optimism. It seems certain to me that within the next 30 to 40 years, we will realize national marriage equality and people will be judged not by the sexual relations they have with other consenting parties, but, indeed, by the content of their character.

I’d like to conclude my thoughts on the last week with one of the hundreds of stories I’ve encountered during this wild, crazy ride. I’m withholding his name at his request:

“man, i just watched your video on youtube. being from the south, the deep south, I have been raised ‘anti-gay.’ Pardon the slur. but that completely changed my view on the subject. Just amazing. Im leaving for the army in two weeks and was pretty upset about don’t ask don’t tell being repealed but again you changed my view on that. I just thought it would be nice for you to know you truley opened someones eyes. Thank you.”

The idea that Perez Hilton, Ashton Kutcher, and Ellen DeGeneres all know who I am is really cool. The fact that, by sharing my life, I was able to change someone’s mind about an issue that affects millions of Americans? Way, way cooler.

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