Friday, April 11, 2014

With Zach Wahls

The University of Illinois' Inclusive Illinois campaign hosted a great speaker today - Zach Wahls, LGBTQ-activist, son of two lesbians and best-known for his famous speech to the Iowa Legislature against any move to constitutionally ban gay marriages. Oh, and I should add, he's also a Civil Engineer! In his seminar, which covered a broad range of topics related to his life, he reiterated his speech before a rapt audience. He spoke about his challenges as he grew up, how he realized that his family was 'different' and how he eventually got to the Iowa Legislature and life after that.

I think the most powerful part of the presentation was the last 20 minutes, when he first answered a few FAQs. Most of the questions were quite silly, such as the one asking him how he learned to shave (surely in the age of YouTube, this is not too hard? That's how I learned it anyway!). Some of them were pointed and meant to evoke a strong response. Of them, I was surprised by the nature of one particular question, which went something along these:

If you didn't have a dad at home, how did you learn about courage and self-discipline?

On so many different levels, this question makes unsubstantiated assumptions. I cringed at it, and the speaker caught me and agreed that the question was more silly than substantive.

In the Q&A with the audience, Zach took my question on the role of religion. As he has already pointed out, in 2010, the religious right mounted a powerful attack on the Iowa State Supreme Court, successfully removing two judges from it as punishment for striking down a law against gay marriage, which the legislature then tried to overturn via Constitutional amendment. I wondered whether such attacks made him angry at religion and he replied in the negative, arguing that he himself was very religious but was frustrated (not angry) at the religious right trying to hijack institutions of the state to further their agenda. I disagreed with him on this answer because I feel that religion has no role in the state and moreover by its very nature, religion will try to silence debate and force itself upon everyone else. After all, religion is an institution that demands suspension of belief and reasoning. I cannot reconcile my clear pro-LGBTQ position with a religious position, though Zach might be able to.

Other questions on the road ahead for LGBTQ movement, on support from straight people and parallels with the Civil Rights movement were wonderful to hear. LGBTQ-related issues are an important part of any society that claims to be free and fair. To punish people for something they are born with and which comes naturally to them is simply unjust and no country can call itself a democracy if that's how it is going to treat some of its citizens, no matter what minority those citizens are in. And that includes my own country. Democracy is rule by majority, not tyranny of the majority.

Opinions 24x7 has had a clear and consistent stand on the issue of Sec 370 IPC in India and this seminar further cemented my views. 

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