Eight years after Zach Wahls went viral with an eloquent speech in favor of marriage equality in front of the Iowa State Legislature, he has returned to Des Moines — this time as a state senator.
Wahls, now 26, cruised to victory in Iowa’s 37th District in November, with a whopping 78 percent of the vote over Libertarian candidate Carl Krambeck. His victory came after years of advocacy following his 2011 testimony in front of Iowa’s House Judiciary Committee during a hearing on a proposal to amend the State Constitution to ban gay marriage in Iowa, which became legal two years earlier in State Supreme Court ruling. Then 19, Wahls spoke of his life growing up with lesbian parents.
“I guess the point is that my family really isn’t so different from any other Iowa family,” he said at the time. “When I’m home, we go to church together. We eat dinner, we go on vacations. But, we have our hard times too; we get in fights. My mom, Terry, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2000. It is a devastating disease that put her in a wheelchair, so you know, we’ve had our struggles. But we’re Iowans. We don’t expect anyone to solve our problems for us. We’ll fight our own battles. We just hope for equal and fair treatment from our government.”
The video garnered tens of millions of views and Wahls became such a thorn in the side of conservatives that Maggie Gallagher, the infamous former president of the National Organization for Marriage, once said the media was shaping public understanding of LGBTQ rights via what she called the “Zach Wahls effect.”
Wahls, who was conceived via artificial insemination, went on to maintain a visible role in politics and the fight for gay rights: He spoke at the 2012 Democratic National Convention, went after the Boy Scouts of America’s ban on gay and lesbian leaders, and lobbied members of Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would give same-sex couples at least seven days of paid sick time to care for one another.
But now, nearly four years after same-sex couples gained marriage rights nationwide, and with a shift in the political climate during the Trump administration, Wahls zeroed in on other issues in his campaign for State Senate, including affordable healthcare, education, and workers’ rights.
Wahls was sworn into office on Monday and sent out an email later that night thanking his supporters for helping him along the way.
“It’s a big responsibility, and it’s one that I do not shoulder alone,” he said in the email. “I am surrounded and supported by so many people, including you, and for that, I am profoundly grateful.”
According to the Family Equality Council, Wahls became the first person with openly LGBTQ parents to be elected to Iowa’s State Legislature.
Iowa has comprehensive nondiscrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, although conversion therapy on minors is not yet banned and the state does not cover hate crimes based on gender identity.
Wahls could not immediately be reached for comment on his legislative priorities pertaining to LGBTQ rights, but a review of his Twitter account shows that he retweeted a post earlier this month calling for Iowa to ban conversion therapy.