Addressing issues ranging from his differences from Rick Santorum and the recent Chick-fil-A controversy all the way to his experiences as a Boy Scout with lesbian parents, Wahls Wednesday night gave his take on the fight for equality. Below is his Q&A with Vanderbilt students and other notable quotes from his dialogue.
Vanderbilt Student: Do you ever get angry because you feel like it is unfair that everyone is staring at you all the time?
Zach Wahls: Frankly, I get a lot of hate mail. My internet, my email address is public, my physical address is public. I'm really at a point where I'm over it. I know what my values are - I know who my family is and that is all that matters. Don't get me wrong, I get frustrated, no doubt. But I don't get angry often, because the moment I start doing that is the moment I become an ineffective messenger.
VS: Did you turn in your Boy Scout badges?
ZW: No, because I do not want to diminish the effect I can have as a badge holding member of the organization. When I founded Scouts for Equality in June 2012, I promised I wouldn't do that.
I don't think that every Boy Scout understands the difference between the boy-scouting movement and the Boy Scout organization - like what it means to be an American verses the American government, for example.
VS: If you had to make a prediction for how long it will take for all 50 states to embrace marriage equality.
ZW: We have to remember that Mississippi this year ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. It's 2013. So in terms of when these laws will change on the books, I'm not sure, but potentially as early as May or June of this year, the Supreme Court could rule in a fashion that effectively makes marriage equality legal in the United States. Obviously that would be controversial. I have a bet with a friend of mine on whether we legalize cannabis or same-sex marriage first - I have my money on cannabis at this point.
VS: If you think that marriage is legalized in all 50 states, do you think that, particularly in the South, that LGBTQI people will face more violence?
ZW: Absolutely. It's already been pretty damn bad. If you look at it gay-youth to gay-youth - when you compare those who are accepted and loved by their family, compared to those who were rejected by their community, those who were rejected are more likely to suffer from depression, four times as likely to commit suicide, four times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, three times more likely to develop an addiction to hard drugs. Not because they were gay, but because they were not accepted by their community - thats the real issue here.
VS: Do you have any opinions about recent controversies surrounding Chick-fil-a?
ZW: The reality is that these people are good people. The problem is that when we see the world from this black and white perspective, even though I think this is an issue that has a clear right and wrong position, we have to understand that reasonable people can disagree with things. Frankly, I don't eat at Chick-fil-a, but that's because I don't really care for chicken sandwiches.
We just need to be careful about our tactics. I think it's great that Dan Cathy has a friend that is openly gay, I just think it would be great if he would stop giving money to people who don't like gay people.
VS: So many people talk about two men getting married or two women getting married. What is your stance on (transgender) people?
ZW: A close friend of mine is trans, and I am a strong supporter of trans rights. Its interesting - for a lot of LGBT folks, there is much larger social acceptance, but in a lot of states they still lack a legal mechanism through which their relationships to be recognized. For trans people it is the opposite – flip-flopped. They have way less social acceptance, but the legal mechanism for them to go through the transition process is available - most often. But I'm on board – totally on board.
VS: What effects do you think that acts like "Don't Say Gay" bill have on children?
ZW: Just a quick observation – aren't these a little Gestapo-ish? I hate to make a direct Nazi reference, but (this act) is a little spy-in-on-each-other weirdness.
I'm not sure that its even constitutional? Tinker v. Des Moines made it very clear that students have pretty broad range in the freedom of speech doctrine. It's definitely not something I'd vote for.
Other notable quotes:
"So yeah my friend's dad showed how to shave, but the reality is that it is not moments like this that make you a man – it is how you are raised."
"When people ask me how I came to be a man, I don't really have an answer, and honestly I don't think I'm done yet."
"I hope that you will consider the influence that you have on other people. Today we have more communicable power in our pockets than NASA did when they put a man on the moon. If that doesn't make you cringe than you need to see a therapist."