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Iowa City native Zach Wahls set to speak at IMU

BY EMMA MCCLATCHEY | OCTOBER 04, 2012 6:30 AM

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From walking to class as a University of Iowa environmental-engineering student to walking on stage next to the president at the Democratic National Convention, Zach Wahls has come a long way.

"I've got a lot more frequent-flier miles, for one thing," he said.

An Iowa City native and son of two mothers (as suggested by the title of his book, My Two Moms), the 21-year-old lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights advocate will fly home to speak on "What Makes a Family" in the IMU Main Lounge, sponsored by the Campus Activities Board. The lecture will begin at 8 p.m.

"It'll be good to be back in town at my hometown university," Wahls said. "I think as young people, we forget how much power we have in shaping political process and this country. As someone who has had a very powerful reminder of how much capacity we have, I'm just trying to pass that lesson on to my peers."

Wahls shot to fame in January 2011 after a video of his testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee against the passage of House Joint Resolution Six — which would have outlawed same-sex marriage in Iowa — went viral. Since then, he has appeared on numerous television programs, written an autobiography, and traveled the country, speaking and campaigning for LGBT equality on national stages and at numerous college and university campuses.

"We really loved the idea of having someone who is locally based here who can maybe connect with the students on a different level," the Campus Activities Board's cultural-events director Katherine Dove said. "He's expanding horizons about what makes a family and just humanity and humility and what it is to really contribute to society."

Wahls said he hopes to empower all students through his campus visits, no matter their sexual orientation or political leaning.

"This isn't really about LGBT people at all; it's about what kind of country we want to live in — one that tries to pass judgment on other people or one that believes in self-determination and self-governance," Wahls said. "I've had people come up to me after [my presentation] and say, 'Dude, I didn't really know what to expect, but you answered a lot of questions, offered a new perspective or a different answer that I've never heard before.' And that's really, really cool."

A VIP reception will take place prior to Wahls' 8 p.m. speech, in which local organizations, such as ones from the UI's LGBT Resource Center, will have the chance to meet with him. There will also be a book signing after the lecture.

UI sophomore Sara Puffer, a member of university's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Allied Union, said Wahls' appearance will garner beneficial attention to LGBT issues in Iowa City.

"His presence in our community, paired with his national success, certainly brings something special," she said. "The university and Iowa City community will be touched, LGBTQA or not, and they will be touched more by a personal and awakening story than a general politicians' appearance will."

Wahls said he hopes lectures such as his will no longer be necessary in the coming decades, as the "pace of acceptance," especially among Iowans, is beginning to accelerate.

"It's a marathon, not a sprint," he said. "Once we get to a point when politicians are no longer playing politics here in Iowa with LGBT rights, and people across the country stop trying to make this a political question and understand that it's a human question, this is going to be a nonissue."

As for Wahls' future, it will soon become less of a novelty to see him on campus. He said he plans to re-enroll at the UI part-time in the spring of 2013 and full-time that fall. Is he looking forward to settling back down in Iowa City?

"Absolutely," Wahls said. "I love traveling, and I love having the opportunity to get this word out, but it's tiring. I have no idea how Ron Paul does it; the guy's in his 70s. I'm sure having a private plane helps, but I fly coach, so — there you go."

What: Zach Wahls, presented by the Campus Activities Board
When: 8 p.m. Friday
Where: IMU Main Lounge
Admission: Free


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