YouTube sensation, gay activist Zach Wahls speaks about gay marriage at Ferris

GONE VIRAL: Zach Wahls, a gay rights activist from Iowa, talks to a Ferris State University student after his Tuesday presentation. Wahls addressed the Iowa House of Representatives one year ago Tuesday, and the video of his speech went viral. It has been watched more than 16 million times on YouTube. (Pioneer photo/ Whitney Gronski-Buffa)

BIG RAPIDS — Exactly a year and 16,518,701 YouTube hits ago, Iowa resident Zach Wahls was just an engineering student with two moms and a younger sister.

Then, he delivered a three-minute speech in support of same-sex marriage to Iowa’s House of Representatives as it prepared to vote on a bill that would end same-sex marriage in the state.

Since then, the video of Wahls’ speech has gone viral and earned him invitations to “Good Morning America,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.” The clip was posted on Facebook walls and played on national news networks. Now, Wahls has a book deal and a speaking tour, which he brought on Tuesday to Williams Auditorium at Ferris State University.

Wahls spoke on Tuesday about his biological mother Terry’s decision to conceive with a sperm donor and her eventual marriage to her wife, Jackie. He referred to telling his classmates about his moms as a “coming out” experience and talked about learning to shave, something he did on his own without longing for help from a father figure.

“Biologically, we all have a father. Emotionally, do I have a dad? No,” Wahls said. “But it’s important to note that that’s not a disqualifier for same-sex marriage. … The skills that we learn are more important than who we learn them from. Fact is, if my sister had wanted to learn how to wear makeup, my moms sure couldn’t have taught her how to do that either.”

Speaking to an audience largely composed of Ferris students, Wahls said this generation is decidedly more in favor of same-sex marriage. Because they will be on the frontlines of this debate, Wahls asked the audience not to engage in the pettiness and name-calling that often becomes part of politics. This debate, he said, is especially fraught with tension because it confronts peoples’ values on sex, religion and politics. It’s important to be respectful while pursuing social justice, he said.

“I’m not opposed to people who think that homosexuality is immoral,” Wahls said. “I believe in the first amendment and that we all have the right to believe what we want to believe. But as soon as your beliefs start infringing on my legal rights, that’s when we have a problem.”

Sam Lesniak, an 18-year-old Ferris student from Sturgis, said she came to Wahls’ presentation because she was familiar with his YouTube video.

“I watched it many times and it was just such an inspiration,” she said. “Coming from a small town in Michigan, they aren’t really open to same-sex marriage, so it’s inspirational to hear him.”

Zac Birch, a 25-year-old Ferris student from Des Plaines, Ill., went to the presentation for information on how to fight for gay rights on behalf of his aunt and her girlfriend. He agreed with Wahls, saying he believes his generation is more supportive of equality.

“We’re having a huge shift, especially at the university level,” he said. “We’re no longer saying this is about diversity, acceptance and tolerance. It’s about social justice.”

See the YouTube video that started it all below.

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Posted by Whitney Gronski-Buffa

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