Gay-marriage activist speaks on the meaning of family

The Daily News

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments in the next two days on Proposition 8 and the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, Ball State students joined the national conversation when an author and activist discussed his experience growing up with two moms and the meaning of family.

Zach Wahls, who has made appearances on shows such as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “The Late Show with David Letterman,” spoke in Pruis Hall, two years after the three minute video of his testimony before the Iowa House Judiciary went viral. 

Then he was speaking against a proposed amendment that would define marriage in Iowa as between one man and one woman. The Senate did not pass the amendment, House Joint Resolution Six. 

Now he is speaking up on a national level, with Ball State being one school on a larger tour he’s doing this spring.

“The Supreme Court starts hearing oral arguments about same-sex marriage tomorrow, and so there’s been this ground swell of public push across the country to get folks to have this national conversation,” Wahls said. “I am very lucky and very privileged to be a part of the conversation.”

Wahls said although he never considered a future in public speaking, he had to take the opportunity that was presented to him after the video gained popularity.

“I remember when I was a little kid, I wished so badly that there was the voice for people like me in the public conversation,” Wahls said. “I knew that if little me had known that big me had a chance to do that, and I turned away from it, little me would have been so angry. Frankly, there are still days when I wake up and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, has this all actually happened?’ and then I look at my phone.”

Wahls said the one thing he hopes students take out of his presentation is to recognize that gay people are in fact people and that students can make a difference.

“Sometimes we get caught up in some of the labels and we lose sight of what’s really important... and that’s family, that’s love and that’s recognition,” Wahls said. “I think by really articulating what my own experience growing up with same-sex parents was like, especially from the point of view as a straight dude, I think that helps give people a better frame of reference about what it’s like to be a gay person or to have gay parents.”

Wahls said with smartphones and laptops students now have more power in their backpacks than NASA did when they sent a man to the moon. 

“That should scare you,” Wahls said. “I’ve been able to witness the affect that what amounts to basically story telling can have.”

Reverend Mary Moore, a minister at the Unitarian Universalist church, said she has been following Wahls’ career since seeing the testimony video and has always wanted to hear him speak in person. 

“I think he really spoke truth in a powerful way,” Moore said. “The next two days are going to be very important for the Supreme Court, and I think it was an excellent timing. I was pleased that he had a connection so much with the Ball State students.” 

Mitch Isaacs, associate director of Student Life, said the night was everything he had hoped for.

“The turn out was terrific,” Isaacs said. “On a day when we had a two hour delay [for snow] to have over 400 people in the audience, what a testament to how people feel about this topic and how interested they were to come and hear him speak.”

Isaacs said the Excellence in Leadership program will continue to try and bring important topics to Ball State.

“We don’t shy away from controversy,” he said. “We want students to be engaged.”

Natalie Roman, a sophomore telecommunications major, said she was happy to see this issue being brought up at Ball State. 

“I think it’s very consistent with Ball State’s policies because we do have... a large amount of multicultural organizations that are dedicated toward LGBT equality,” Roman said. “They are making us feel safe here at Ball State University. Many other colleges in Indiana are not that beacon of light.”  

Member from Muncie Outreach, a drop in center that provides a “safe haven” for LGBTQ youth in Delaware county, were also at the event. 

“A lot of what he says does affect my youth,” Laura Janney, the director of Muncie Outreach, said. “I have high school kids in here... The suicide rate is very high among LGBTQ. And its bullying, its political bullying, it’s religious bullying. It’s very sad, so it’s great to hear someone speak out about it.”

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