If you're one of the million-plus who have seen his video on YouTube, or one of the millions more who were tuned into MSNBC, ABC News or CBS News when his video was playing, chances are that you've already met him. But just in case you're not - or if you want to get reacquainted, here he is.
The first thing that needs to be said about 19 year-old University of Iowa student Zach Wahls, is that his only goal in making this speech to the state House of Representatives was to stand up for his parents. The story he wanted to tell was one of love, of caring, of nurturing - of the same ups and downs that every family goes through. By telling his story, Zach was making the case for why his moms should be able to keep the protections they have for their loving, committed relationship. But as the media attention he's received proves, he did something more.
Zach captured the nation's attention with his compelling story, just as our friend Joel Burns did last year. And while there's no question that he is an extraordinary speaker, the story he tells is just about as conventional, run-of-the-mill, par-for-the-course ordinary as they get. And that's exactly why he's so important.
Zach's story is no different than the stories of the overwhelming majority of kids who are raised by loving gay or lesbian couples. And because the topic of family comes up so often in these discussions, I'm going to give you a little bit of ammunition.
Opponents of marriage equality are always quick to recite the all-too-familiar line “studies show that children do best when they have a mother and a father.” The first thing you need to know is that those studies they're citing are actually comparing two-parent households to single-parent households, and do not include children raised by gay and lesbian parents.
Anti-gay activists aren't comparing apples to apples. They're not even comparing apples to oranges. This is comparing apples to encyclopedias.
Dr. Nanette Gartrell is lead author of the US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, which is the longest ongoing study of same-sex couples parenting children ever undertaken. In June, she said “It’s not that our study contradicts any actual scientific data used by opponents — there are no opposing data. Ours is the first of its kind to show how these adolescents are faring, and they’re doing extremely well.”
In a report released in the journal Pediatrics, she wrote “According to their mothers’ reports, the 17-year-old daughters and sons of lesbian mothers were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic, and total competence and significantly lower in social problems, rule-breaking, aggressive, and externalizing problem behavior than their age-matched counterparts in Achenbach’s normative sample of American youth. Within the lesbian family sample, no Child Behavior Checklist differences were found among adolescent offspring who were conceived by known, as-yet-unknown, and permanently unknown donors or between offspring whose mothers were still together and offspring whose mothers had separated.”
And it's not just LGBT researchers saying this. According to Media Matters:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics says: “[S]cientific literature demonstrates” that same-sex couple children “fare as well.”
- The American Psychiatric Association says: “Research indicates that optimal development for children is based not on the sexual orientation of the parents.”
- The American Psychological Association says: “There is no scientific basis for concluding that lesbian mothers or gay fathers are unfit parents on the basis of their sexual orientation.”
- The American Psychoanalytic Association says: “Gay and lesbian individuals and couples are capable of meeting the best interest of the child.”
- The Child Welfare League of America says: “Any attempt to preclude or prevent gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals or couples from parenting, based solely on their sexual orientation, is not in the best interest of children.”
So why is Zach Wahls so important, if all kids raised in similar homes fare just as well?
Because he's speaking up.
Because he's telling his story.
Because he's actively fighting back against the myths and falsehoods put forth by opponents of marriage equality - and he doesn't have to be the only one.
In 2008, we commissioned a study by Harris Interactive, called “Pulse of Equality.” (which you can download here) to find out where America stood on issues of equality for everyone, and just as importantly, why. Around 20% of Americans said they felt more favorable about gay and transgender equality than they had just five years earlier. Of those, the vast majority (4 out of 5) said a major reason was the fact that they knew an LGBT person. Looking at how the country has reacted to Zach Wahls' story, I'm positive that knowing the son or daughter of a gay or lesbian couple would have equally positive results.
The more America gets to know the LGBT community - and the families that are headed by or include LGBT people - the more the country understands the need for all of us to have the same protections. It's true in schools, it's true in the workplace, and it's true in marriage.
And everyone who just met Zach Wahls is better off for it.