EXCLUSIVE: Zach Wahls On Family, Activism And His New Memoir, My Two Moms

Once just a typical student at the University of Iowa, 20-year-old Zach Wahls became activist hero almost instantly in January 2011 when a viral video of him speaking before the Iowa House Judiciary Committee about being the son of a lesbian couple became the most watched political video on YouTube.

Now the straight ally par excellence has written My Two Moms, a poignant memoir about growing up with his two mothers, Jackie and Terry, as well as the surprise of sudden fame  and how he’s incorporated the values of the Boy Scouts into his life. (Each chapter of Moms is named after one of the Scouts’ 12 values—Obedient, Trusthworthy, Thrifty, Brave, etc).

At 6’6″, Wahls towers over his moms and sister, Zebby. But he’s an incredibly warm, respectful and well-spoken young man with a true calling: He’s taken time off from school to tour the nation and discuss the realities and myths surrounding gay families. When he returns to school, he’ll continue his studies in environmental engineering. (He hasn’t ruled out a career in politics, though.)

Queerty’s Evan Mulvihill chatted with Wahls about who My Two Moms is written for, whether we can count on President Obama to fight for LGBTs, and how to prevent more bullying of gay teens.

Queerty: Who is My Two Moms aimed at?

It’s a dual mandate. First, I want to give a voice to the other kids with LGBT parents. Kids like me answer the questions that I mention in the book all of the time. We get told so often by so many talking heads and political figures that there’s some huge flaw or some huge problem having gay parents. Even though we know that on a very fundamental level that’s not true, it’s still important to repeat.

Secondly, when it comes to talking to somebody who’s on the fence about gay families, I think the book does a good job of laying out the values behind me, behind my family. If you look at those values they’re very much not just in the political but the clutural mainstream of America. The book is structured around the 12 values of Boy Scout law, each chapter is titled “Be Prepared,” Obedient, Trustworthy, Kind, and so on. I hope it acts as a bridge for some people who are still on the fence.

More than 50% of Americans have said they support gay marriage in national polls for some time now. Do you think the next 20% or 30% will be hard to crack?

If you look back at the trendline, 12 years ago in 2000, support for same-sex marriage was at about 35%. Two years ago it was 44%. Today it’s at 53%. We’re on this accelerated pathway. I don’t want to use derivatives to make a point, but if you look at the slope of the trendline, it’s extraordinarily clear where the country is headed on this issue—toward a place of more inclusion, more diversity, and more acceptance.

You’re showing your engineering background! After we get marriage equality, what’s next for LGBT rights?

While we’re moving forward quickly when it comes to lesbians, gays and bisexuals, but when it comes to [trans] people, there’s still a lot of work to do. Trans people are an important part of this movement, and we need a gender-identity-inclusive ENDA. In Texas, for example, the state recently tried to annul a marriage between two transgender people. We can’t just secure marriage equality, think our work is done and pack up and go home.

Has becoming a speaker, author and public figure taken over your life, or are you going to still pursue engineering?

It’s such an important time for LGBT rights, with the momentum we’ve picked up over the last two years. The Obama administration’s decision to consider DOMA unconstitutional is also a huge step, and I don’t think the community always understands the importance of it. I thought this was an important time to take time off from school. This is really something that, while I enjoy doing, I’m not interested in as a career. My expectation is that in 2013 or 2014, I’m going to return to my studies full-time to finish my degree in environmental engineering.

So we’re not going to see you run for office?

That’s something I’m considering. There are a lot of conversations that need to happen, both internally with my friends and family, and also with the community. I think talk of political office before I have a college degree is premature at best, so it’s definitely a conversation I will rethink once I have my degree.

You talked about including the “T” in the LGBT rights. Why do you think there’s been some friction between trans people and the greater gay community?

I think why there’s a disparity between “LGB” people and “T” people is because somebody who has a sexual orientation that is not heterosexual, they have to do some soul-searching and figure out what that means in a heteronormative society. But they don’t have to think about their gender identity. A trans person has to think about their gender identity, and the result that will have on their sexual orientation. You have to fight against heteronormativity twice as a trans person.

Do you think President Obama is just waiting for a better political climate to endorse gay marriage?

I can’t tell you what President Obama’s private reflections on marriage equality are. I know he’s been a Christian for his whole life, so I know there might be some religious beliefs to reconcile. However, when you look at what he did with the Defense of Marriage Act. By declaring it unconstitutional, he removed an incredible amount of legal standing in the court.

Queerty wrote recently about Kathryn Lehman, who helped draft the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. Since then, though, she’s come out as a lesbian and is fighting to get DOMA repealed. That feels like a prime example of the cultural change we’ve seen over the past 20 years.

That actually speaks in a very real way to the central message of my book: that the sexual orientation of my parents have zero effect on the content of my character. That’s just to simply observe that a person’s sexual orientation, or race, or class, or education or what have you is a very poor indicator of what that person is like. Being told a person is gay doesn’t tell you a lot about that person’s character.

What I think we’re observing in [Lehman’s] case is… a woman who was involved in some level of self-loathing. Did that mean her sexual orientation was giving her strength or not? No, of course not, it was the content of her character. Those are two separate things.

How would you convince a conservative talking head like Bill O’Reilly to support gay rights?

When we have these conversations, we have to meet people where they are. We need to understand them before they can understand us. I think it’s incredibly important to understand why Bill reacts to gay people the way he does. Even though that sounds assimilationist, I think at the end of the day it comes down to whether or not you are so self-important that you simply stand for what you stand for, consequences be damned. If you want to make the world a better place you’re going to have to compromise. You’re going to have to do some things that you don’t want to do.

Have you had an experience where you’ve told someone your parents are lesbians and they’ve had a change of heart about gay parenting?

I’ve never had it happen in the middle of a conversation, like a light bulb going off. But I have had people come up to me after I’ve given a lecture at a college and tell me, “I came in here not knowing how I felt about the issue, and was split both ways, but walking away I just really agree with your side of the argument.” That’s always an incredible thing, and makes giving these talks worth it.

Recently, 14-year-old teen Kenneth Weishuhn committed suicide in your home state of Iowa, a marriage-equality state. How can we can protect gay teens more effectively? It does get better, but sometimes not in the high-school environment.

Sometimes not even college is better. The Sioux City Journal, which the biggest paper in the northwest part of Iowa where this happened, published a full-page editorial on their Sunday edition—the entire first page—with a call to action against bullying because of Kenneth’s suicide. It was totally unprecedented in the history of this newspaper. People are slowly starting to realize that we have a responsibility as human beings to say that bullying is not a rite of passage. It’s not a simple trial that everybody has to go through. It’s not how people get stronger. There’s that great Friedrich Nietzsche quote, “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” But that’s not always true. Sometimes bullying will destroy you. And teachers, when they step into that classroom, have a responsibility to protect their students, no matter their sexuality, race, or creed.

How about straight allies like yourself—how can they protect gay teens?

Dumbledore once observed that it takes a lot of courage to stand up to your enemies, but it takes even more courage to stand up to your friends. Even though it seems a little awkward to quote Harry Potter here, it’s so true. It’s going to be the courage of young straight people who don’t necessarily have a gay brother or sister or gay parent, it’s going to be those young people calling out straight people who make a big difference.

While gay activists are obviously important for LGBT rights, straight allies are so crucial in moving things forward.

We still live in country where there’s an idea that homosexuality is a choice. This is an obvious departure from the women’s and black rights women, because nobody doubts that you’re [born] a woman or a black person. It’s something you can see. When it comes to something like attraction, you can’t see it. There’s a disconnect. It’s a civil-rights issue where allies are unusually important, because of the nature of heteronormative status. The fact of the matter, though, is that gay people have an incredibly important role to play, and nobody doubts that. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be who I am without my moms.

Photos: Leslie Von Pless/Lambda Legal, Warner Bros, GLAAD,  Zach Wahls

Get Queerty Daily

Subscribe to Queerty for a daily dose of #politics #exclusive #gayparenting stories and more


  • queertyluvr

    this is absolutely fantastic. god bless zach wahls — and the parents who raised him. he’s going to reach a whole audience that GLBT spokespeople would have a much harder time reaching. hetero, white, male, photogenic, midwestern, smart, educated, boy-scout values, even the teutonic surname — all these demographic markers will make him much more politically and philosophically difficult to ignore. go zach!

  • Brent

    Ugh this guy is such a media and fame whore.

  • James

    @Brent: Um, Brent, Zach is making a difference, and a contibution to the body politic. What are YOU doing?

  • CarnacTheMagnificent

    @Brent: Brent, I urge you to look inside yourself…

  • Brent

    I volunteer and my local LGBT center and work with LGBT people in my community.

  • Greg

    I agree this kid is a media and fame whore.

  • Matt

    Borrrring! *yawn* ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ

  • Carlos

    Honestly who cares? Yes he does come off as a total fame y media whore or el es puta y perra.

  • Lance

    Yeah we get it, you love your moms. Way to cash in on them.

  • Ronbo

    Fame whore? Whatever…. At least he is famous for doing good things and helping the community. Now that’s the kind of fame whore we need.

  • houtx48

    Zach’s story is not new or unique and neither is what he’s saying.

    I guess in today’s world of wannabe youtube internet celebrities he’s going to pimp his book and milk himself as someone to interview and as a speaker to make money. Not surprising. Now he won’t have to go to college!

  • Allen

    Ronbo he’s not helping the LGBT community. He’s using LGBT people, our issues, and his mothers as a way to get money, fame, and media attention for himself. We’ve seen this before and it’s not new.

    He’s just like Ben Cohen who is another straight guy who is trying to make money from LGBT people by pretending to be an ally for our issues when really Ben Cohen is just another fame/media whore and he doesn’t give a shit about LGBT people unless we’re paying him money.

    I know lots of people who had same gender parents, or LGBT parent(s) but they don’t feel the need to be such sell outs, fame whores, or media whores like Zach is.

  • Right ON!

    This idiot isn’t an activist for LGBT rights at all. He just is a fame whore who wants LGBT people to buy his book, pay to see him talk, and make money off of us LGBT people!

  • xixax

    What a bunch of bitter assholes you guys are. This kid is doing some good. Back the fuck off.

  • Mark

    @Brent: He’s making a difference and speaking the truth. He hasn’t sought the limelight, the limelight caught him because he spoke and speaks the truth. What have YOU done lately Brent? Hhhhmmmmm???????

  • Mark

    @Greg: Oh? what’re you doing Greg to make the world a better place? Damn, there are a lot of uptight arrogant pricks on here tonight.

  • Mark

    @Right ON!: It seems he spoke his heart to the Iowa delegation and now the limelight has been cast upon him because his message is poignant and true. What’re you doing Right ON other than bitching? Jealous are we?????

  • Damon

    xixax he’s only doing good in the way he’s going to make money from his ghost-written book, interviews, and speaking engagements.

    He’s your typical hetero ally who is only using LGBT people to fatten his wallet and bank account.

  • unclemike

    Jeez, what did some of you have for breakfast today, Carnation Instant Bitch?

    He just seems honest and sincere, which is more than I can say for some posters here.

  • James

    People use people. All people use others. it isn’t whether or not we are4 being used but what the final outcome of that usage will be. He is able to spread the word in a way we as gays cannot. as a straight he will be able to speak to other straights and the will be able to identify with that in themselves. Whether or not he is a fame whore I am grateful, and wish there were more out there like him. Not afraid to use his voice. Being the child of gay parents brings almost as much ridicule as being gay does. To all of you jaded bitter drama queens looking for yet another thing to bitch about. get over it.

  • samwise

    You haterz have one thing in common: you are jealous of the guy who’s actually doing something meaningful. This while you sit on your asses all day, surfing the net for a hookup, wishing some straight guy would come over and let you service him. You’re all pathetic.

  • LaTeesha

    @Brent: And that’s from a comment whore like yourself.

  • LaTeesha

    @Brent: @unclemike: That’s 99% of the commenters on here. I read these stories just to laugh at the idiotic comments the 15 year olds, pretending to be adults, leave on here.

  • Henry Page

    Being gay will only even be thought of as nothing different when we go about our lives and show that nothing is different about it.

  • SixPackWallpapers

    i wish i can do more for LGBT community like him

  • Costa K

    GREAT-GOOGLY-MOOGLY he’s tall…

    What a very well-spoken guy, and an excellent video.

  • Stephanie

    People who profit off the LGBT world with only their interest in mind can set the whole movement back. Zach Wahls is the good guy. Steer your dislike towards individuals who deserve it. This young man can be influential with the so called, “family values” crowd. Let’s just see where this goes.

  • axon

    So it’s impossible to be a straight person and stand up for LGBT rights without being a fame and media whore? Thank you very much, good to know. I have been pretty outspoken so far, but I guess I will have to stay silent in the future so I won’t annoy you.

    Come to think of it, why fight for anything good at all? Environment, peace, children’s well-being? It’s just whoring, right?

  • RLS

    All I will say is that it’s kind of scary how easily the LGBT community can lavish praise and attention on those who aren’t even a part of it in the guise of being “allies.”.

    It goes back to the fact that we worship what is heterosexual, white, and male at all costs. It’s why people like Zach Wahls and Ben Cohen are given any kind of a platform at all.

    Nothing personal against them, but the pathology behind the worship of them is sick and sad.

    We like to compare ourselves to the black civil rights movement so much, but that movement would never, EVER give so much power and attention to those who aren’t a part of it, let alone have anyone else speak for them.

  • LaTeesha

    @RLS: “We like to compare ourselves to the black civil rights movement so much, but that movement would never, EVER give so much power and attention to those who aren’t a part of it, let alone have anyone else speak for them.”

    That’s called racism – excluding people simply because they aren’t part of your group. Nice. Fight racism by being a bigot.

  • TomMc

    I don’t care WHY he’s doing it, just THAT he’s doing it. (And he’s doing a lot of good for LBGT people.)

  • RLS

    @LaTeesha: The only two words for your complete misunderstanding of my post are: oh, dear…

  • mds

    @Brent: as a queer person with a queer parent, i agree. very sick of him and his speaker fees and his fame chasing

  • LaTeesha

    @RLS: The only two words for your inability to recognize your bigotry: oh, dear…

  • LaTeesha

    @mds: As if being gay and/or having a gay parent make you an authority on any topic?

  • Lance

    @LaTeesha: Hahaha, you are probably one of those people who screams “discrimination!!!!” when a man is not allowed into a women’s book club, or when straight people are no longer allowed into a gay bar because they all eventually overrun them.

    No. You need to keep quiet because you do not understand what these places seek to do; allow minorities to have a strong, powerful voices that lead groups.

  • axon

    There’s much homophobic talk about how terrible it must be to be a child in a family with two mums or two dads, so what’s wrong with one of those children piping up and telling everyone he’s OK, thank you very much? That he’s straight and looks like a football hero doesn’t hurt in a world where there are people who believe homosexuality is contagious. He’s not an authority on anything but his personal experience (unless he has also made some kind of study) but since when is it wrong to tell people about your personal experience? So stop backstabbing the guy.

    As for the black movement, there were A LOT of white people supporting it, including sitting beside black protesters at sit-ins in very hostile environments, getting beaten and spat at. I’m sure that meant something in swaying other white people on the fence, the clueless racists who weren’t exactly hostile but had never really thought about the matter, just taken for granted that black people must be different somehow.

  • Blueleo65

    For all the mean shortsighted haters…..nothing is for free, and it costs money to advance our causes. Why would you expect him, a young man at such a young age, to do this for free ? He is a well spoken and intelligent man who found himself in a position where he can bridge the gap and turn people’s opinions. If we follow the critic’s logiic, we can then say that the LGBT community is also using him to advance their agenda.

  • Henry Page

    @No. 37 · Blueleo65

    “a young man at such a young age”

    Would a young man be any other age?

    On the issue of this man’s credentials to be a gay campaigner – he can’t really be that because he cannot understand what it feels like to be hated because of something you cannot change, any more than a white, middle aged male could take on women’s issues. He can, of course, speak about beingbrought up by gay parents – he has experience of that. Sadly you need to be a victim to understand the victims’ feelings. Tell a black person who has met prejudice all their life that you know how they feel and see what they say!

  • Oh, ok

    Wow so according to this kid straight kids are our saviors and we can’t stand up for ourselves.

    What utter crap.

    I’m so sick of this straight worship.

  • LaTeesha

    @Lance: I need to “keep quiet”. I don’t take advice from bigots and misogynists like yourself. Thanks, though, sweetie.

  • CBRad

    Maybe you guys can stop being THAT suspicious and……just assume Wahls’ main incentive comes from him being so proud and loving of his mothers ?

  • val

    Those who criticize him and others who stand up, shame on you.
    If people wonder why not more people use platforms they have to speak up for LGBTQ people. Well there we have the answer… and who are willing to stand up in public, it is easier for them not to do it.

    If a gay person speak up ( more than once) they is criticized for it. If a straight person does it, they also is criticized for it.
    Different people reach different people and communities, so the fact is that in order to gain full equality. LGBTQ community need many different people to speak up. That is the reality.

    So perhaps it is appropriate to be thankful for those people who are in positions and have the opportunity to speak up, should be supported rather than criticism and to be accused of being fame whores.

  • Xavier

    “He is a media whore”: So, if he has a point, is intelligent, has a chance to speak in defense of a cause, has seen LGBT struggles up close… should he remain silent and far away from microphones and cameras? When does one cross the line from advocate and become a media-whore?
    “He is not one of us”: He has 2 moms, in a time when it is still hard to happen; and when it is uncommon to find someone who has two same-sex parents and has grown up to be a citizen with positive qualities. I am a gay man, and I count him as “one of us”, because he understands the issues.

    I say stop the hate. In the civil rights movements, white men/women who “dared” to go out and marry a black person were advocates, and fighters.

    The beginning of a social movement is when it starts collapsing from within, because of people’s shortsightedness.

  • Mike

    I agree with Oh OK. This guy is not an LGBT person and frankly we as LGBT people are a lot better advocates for our rights than this guy who sold out his lesbian moms for fame, money, and media attention for his book.

  • Henry Page

    In the UK there are many same-sex couples who adopt or have children. Our government is for same-sex marriage, but there are still many opponents, mainly the church and its sheep!

  • Tony

    I am a straight ally myself, and I think that this kid is doing a great thing. I can understand the bitterness and resentment towards a straight man from the general gay community because of things that several important straight men in our society have said or done, but I don’t see this guy as some “fame whore” as alot of people on here keep saying. It seems to me that he’s just trying to do his part to help spread the word of equality.

  • axon

    Why is my comment still “awaiting moderation”? There was nothing offensive in it, and no links to “harmful sites”. I just supported Wahl.


  • Lance

    Tony, you do not understand the reality and fetishism of these run-of-the-mill privileged men. They are given platforms simply because they appeal to a wide audience and are normative. This one is purposefully cashing in by having the guts to release a goddamn book only months after this whole “activism” thing exploded.


  • Lance

    Lateesha, you are truly hilarious. You have completely left out the entirety of my comment and have ultimately resorted to ad hominem.

    Better luck next time.

  • axon

    Lance – isn’t Wahl looking like the stereotype of the all American boy just the point? Yeah, sometimes you do need people who are given a platform just because they are normative, because it’s the norm we want to change. Now he’s taken a year off to speak and promote a book, for which he is rightly paid. Should he starve to qualify for supporting his mothers and the “community”? Are you starving yourself? I hope not, and I can’t believe the venom directed towards this guy. If straights do not support you you sulk, and if they do support, you, you sulk. What do you want, live on an isolated island?

  • Tyler

    Some ugly jealous gays on here apparently. Zach Wahls is doing more and has done more for gays than any of you will ever do or contribute in this lifetime. Those that are doing something about it stand by others that are doing the same.

  • Oh well

    Zach Wahls is clearly a fame and media whore. He cares nothing about his moms, LGBT people, and only wants to make a quick buck off of all of us LGBT people by pretending to be a hetero ally.

  • Lance

    axon: You are not looking at the larger picture here. Yes, the stereotype that you mentioned is part of the problem and this guy being the latest one in a long line of cisgendered heterosexual white male “allies” only serves as further proof.

    Tyler: Because you obviously know everyone who posts here.

Comments are closed.