Author: Mira Sen

Zach Wahls discusses marriage equality

PAC speaker brings unique perspective to state debate

On the night of Oct. 1, the Political Awareness Committee PAC hosted former University of Iowa student Zach Wahls as a speaker in the Pause on “What Makes a Family.” Wahls rose to prominence last year when a YouTube video of his address to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee during a public hearing on the topic of gay marriage went viral.

The video, which has received over 17 million views since its initial posting, is footage of Wahls’s testimony to the Committee on what it was like for him being raised by two women.

In the year and a half since Wahls became a household name in the fight for gay rights, he has been asked to speak on almost every major media network with the notable exception of Fox News, has authored a best-selling book and last month, addressed the Democratic National Convention, voicing his support for President Obama. He’s 21 years old.

Wahls was born via in vitro fertilization through an anonymous donor to his mother, Terry Wahls. By the time he was 3 years old, his mother had met Jackie, the woman who would become Wahls’s second mother, and the woman whom Terry Wahls would later marry. That same year, Terry Wahls gave birth to a daughter, once again via in vitro fertilization, through the same anonymous donor used for her son. As Zach Wahls highlighted both on Oct. 1 and in his speech to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee, this makes him and his sister full siblings, a fact that has always been “really cool” for him.

In a time in which gay marriage is such a hot issue in Minnesota, Wahls’s presence on campus Monday night seemed very fitting. He spoke against the proposed Minnesota marriage amendment and commended Vikings punter Chris Kluwe for his recent remarks on the same topic.

Wahls began his talk by discussing various events and dates that collectively had brought him to where he is now. He cited the signing of the Defense of Marriage Act DOMA as one such pivotal moment, as it affected the lives of his mothers directly. DOMA is a federal law that defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman for federal and inter-state recognition, explicitly excluding homosexual couples.

He next chose a moment eight years after DOMA was enacted in 1996, fast-forwarding to 2004 and the speeches given at the Republican National Convention. As a child who had been raised and loved by two women for most of his life, he could not understand why these politicians were standing up and asserting that there was something wrong with families like his.

Primarily, however, Wahls spoke in depth on what he believes it truly means to be a family. Though he originally planned to show the audience the YouTube video that went viral and led to his fame, due to some technical difficulties, he instead gave the audience a live rendition of his famous speech to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee. Just as it was during that public hearing in 2011, his three-minute speech was met with passionate applause from the audience.

Wahls then began detailing some of the main points of his 2011 address. The first point was the fact that to him, this nationwide debate is not about “gay marriage.” It is simply about marriage.

“My moms don’t live in a gay house, or drive gay cars . . . or have a gay dog, as far as we can tell,” he said. “But the point is they’re not gay married. They’re married.”

He also addressed the question of whether or not a lack of a male father figure has had detrimental effects on his development. For him, the only observable difference is a positive one. “Compared to my male friends who have been raised by straight parents . . . I’m much better at putting the seat down,” he said.

This is not to say that Wahls was devoid of male role models his entire life. He stated at one point that his “moms did not elope to some all-female compound in ‘Lesbia-state,'” and that he had friends’ fathers to teach him how to do ultra-manly things like shave.

Wahls then hypothetically posed the age-old questions those against gay marriage love to ask: Why marriage? Why not just settle for civil unions and domestic partnerships?

He asked the audience, “What images pop into your mind when I say the word ‘marriage’?” After a brief pause, he spoke again. “Did you think of going down to the county clerk’s office and filling out a marriage license?” He invited the audience to indicate whether or not they had. Not a single person raised his or her hand.

He chose to close his discussion with some more stories of his own background. He specifically spoke of the time when he learned the power of words.

“Words have an incredible amount of power that will never, ever fail,” he said. “The words that we speak have the ability to change our lives and the lives around us.”

Following his talk, the audience was able to have a question and answer session with Wahls, along with a chance to meet him, take pictures with him and have books signed by him. Clearly moved, audience members of all orientations swarmed around Wahls, thanking him for his inspiration and dedication to LGBTQ rights.

What does Wahls’s story mean for the future of marriage in America?

“It’s a big message,” said Dory Liem ’13. “All of [Wahls’s] examples and stories ring true, but I think the biggest thing is to stress the emphasis on love. It’s not trivial to these families. Marriage means love and acceptance from society.”

For Wahls, the main struggle now is purely a political one. Addressing what his game plan would be should Mitt Romney be elected president in November, Wahls said, “We will have a man in the oval office who supports a federal amendment to the United States Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Obviously it would require a lot of effort to defeat. A lot of work to do, but I would be more than happy to put work into that”.

Politics aside, Wahls says, “This culture war is over. Love has won.”

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Athletics long overdue for gender orientation acceptance

In America, we have openly gay politicians currently serving as elected officials, openly gay teachers in the classroom and, in certain denominations, openly gay pastors serving in the church. Though the fight for gay rights is far from over, it would seem that we’ve come quite a long way in the quest for equality.

So why is it that in the past four decades, there has not been a single basketball, baseball, hockey or football player who has come out as gay during his time as a professional athlete?

I doubt that this really surprises any of you. With gender stereotypes being what they are, how could it? To this day, a professional male athlete must be the embodiment of masculinity, the underlying definition of which still includes heterosexuality. Does this mean that homosexuality does not exist within the realm of professional sports? Of course not. It’s statistically impossible, which means that some of the athletic heroes we idealize have to hide who they are in order to pursue what they love.

I do not mean to trivialize the pain that countless other members of the LGBTQ community must suffer every day. It is not only professional athletes who feel the need to hide one of the most important parts of what defines them. However, homosexuality in athletics has been making news in the past few months, gaining a special amount of attention in Minnesota.

Chris Kluwe, a punter for the Minnesota Vikings, has been making headlines with his criticisms against the Minnesota marriage amendment, stating that he’d be willing to debate any politician who advocates otherwise. Early in September, Kluwe wrote an impassioned letter to Emmett C. Burns, Jr., a Maryland state delegate who condemned a Baltimore Ravens player for speaking out in favor of gay marriage. Burns had written to the Ravens’ owner asking him to “inhibit such expressions from your employee,” which Kluwe said showed “vitriolic hatred and bigotry” making him “ashamed and disgusted to think that [Burns is] in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level.”

Kluwe’s reaction, while wrought with rather strong language, seems to reflect the values of quite a few NFL players. Brendon Ayanbadejo, the Ravens player whom Emmett C. Burns, Jr. reprimanded, says that he and his teammates have “come to the conclusion that if you can play football and you’re a good person, then we don’t care what your orientation is, what your views on social issues are. If you’re a good person and a great football player, then it doesn’t matter.”

It shouldn’t matter. An athlete who comes out as gay would not suddenly become any less of an athlete. This is where our society’s ridiculous gender stereotypes come in. In the last century, most of the attention has focused on changing the way America views women. For the most part, this has been successful. Granted, women still get paid less than men, and there is still some existing inequality, but the idea that every single woman is destined for the life of a housewife has largely been dispelled. The notions that all women love pink, can’t open jars without assistance and can be assuaged with a bouquet of flowers are outdated. These characteristics do not define what it is to be feminine.

Thus, homosexuality should not be a trait that makes a man “less of a man.” A gay man is just as full of testosterone as a straight man. And while the media has typically portrayed gay men as well-dressed theater lovers, this does not mean that there aren’t gay men all across America who also love sports.

I understand that in order for homosexuality to be comfortably accepted within professional sports, we must overcome more than just traditional gender roles. It will be a long process, but consider the stakes. If professional athletes were able to comfortably express their sexual orientation, perhaps high school athletes would feel comfortable doing so as well. Perhaps children would be less inclined to bully those who are LGBTQ. Maybe this is all too idealistic.

But I think we could use a little healthy idealism.

Mira Sen ’15 is from Batavia, Ill. She majors in political science and English.

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Government finds useful niche in zombie pop culture craze

I have in my room a truly spectacular piece of art. It’s a poster, a masterwork of all things printed, the crème de la crème of the wall-hanging world. If there were to be a fire in Larson, this poster would be the first and only thing that I would save. Its subject? “How to Survive a Zombie Attack.”

It is not entirely nonsensical that this poster should hold so much value. As most of you must be aware, the possibility of a zombie apocalypse has become a growing concern for the average American. How many incidences of crazed, flesh-eating individuals have there been in the past few months? More than one. And I would argue that the fact that there has even been one is cause for alarm. So a set of useful tips on making it through a zombie attack would hold a great deal of relevance in our day and age. And, apparently the government thinks so too.

In mid-May of last year, the Center for Disease Control began a new campaign aimed at informing otherwise unengaged audiences on disaster preparedness. As bait, they used the ever-growing fear of an America taken over by zombies. The helpful hints that the CDC has released on surviving in such a world can easily be applied to any circumstance qualifying as a “disaster,” most notably earthquakes and hurricanes. The initial blog post offers a list of necessities that potential victims should stock up on, as well as suggestions to assign a meeting place to regroup with family and friends. Looking back at my poster, Rule #2 “Stockpile food and water for long periods of time. Canned food is good. Junk food is even better” and Rule #1 “Create a home base with plenty of weapons – the sharper the better” seem as though they’re aimed at more than just zombie preparedness. Granted, you may have to read between the lines on Rule #1, but I think it still applies.

Is the allure of zombies helping to raise awareness on true disaster preparedness? It would appear so. According to ABC News, the “Walking Dead” spin on survival skills caused the CDC’s blog site to crash in about 10 minutes as thousands upon thousands of Internet users scrambled to read their advice. You do have to wonder whether or not those visitors actually took away fresh knowledge on what to do in the event of, say, a hurricane, or if they merely got a kick out of the government’s “admission” of the possibility of true zombies. I find it hard to believe that our federal system would submit to something that some not myself would consider completely ridiculous, just for the sake of making people laugh. Although apparently President Obama has been printing his birth certificate on coffee mugs, so clearly our officials do have some sense of humor.

Members of the CDC have stated that their primary goal in this campaign was to get citizens to take disaster preparedness more seriously. Ironically, it does seem that with this zombie campaign they have achieved that goal. Others who have taken on the zombie initiative have reported greater, prolonged interest in disaster preparedness with audiences when the undead were mentioned.

Although we live in Minnesota where the probability of earthquakes and hurricanes isn’t high, I believe it would be a helpful mnemonic device to think of zombies when familiarizing yourself with proper disaster procedure. If some terrifying and unfamiliar act of God were to occur near Northfield, think “WWIDITZA” “What Would I Do In The Zombie Apocalypse?” and you’ll be golden.

Unless, of course, the government isn’t telling us something, and the “actual disaster” part of the CDC’s campaign is just a cover for the fact that an actual zombie attack is nigh. Conspiracies! Munch on that.

Mira Sen ’15 is from Batavia, Ill. She majors in political science and English.

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Proposed SGA Constitution changes put to the vote