Almost six years ago, I witnessed one of the more touching moments between a father and daughter. It just happened to be between Ella Robinson and her gay father, who also happened to be Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church. After presenting her father with an award at our Family Equality Council dinner, the bishop, with tears streaming down his face, said the one thing that is singularly true for every parent I know: "Being Ella's father has been the best and most important job I have ever had."
And it was a little more than a year ago that I, like many other people, first saw the slightly grainy and shaky video of a tall, handsome young man who spoke passionately and eloquently about the love he felt for his two moms and the righteous anger he felt against those who would deny them the opportunity to marry. In that time, Zach Wahls has gone from being an unassuming engineering major in Iowa to a YouTube sensation, media personality, and effective national LGBT advocate. He's also proven himself to be a loyal and wonderful friend to many partners in the movement, including the Family Equality Council.
And Ella has continued to be a vocal and outspoken advocate for her dad as he has faced extraordinary pressure, including death threats, because of his courageous stand to be fully open in every aspect of his life -- including in his religious community. And she is incredibly bright, articulate, and passionate about her family and the rights of all families to be respected, protected, and celebrated.
I remember speaking to Zach when we recognized him at our annual Night at the Pier event in New York City last year and telling him that he represented the physical realization of what we have been saying for decades -- that the kids of LGBT parents are growing up as strong, healthy, intelligent, and caring individuals.
Zach and Ella are not alone. Many of us know these young men and women raised by LGBT parents who are quietly leading their lives -- succeeding in school and careers, and in some cases raising their own families now. They are the first full generation of children reared by openly LGBT parents, and they are now reaching young adulthood. Now, this generation is ready to be outspoken about their families. Over the past year, many of them have come forward and expressed a passion to tell the true stories of their families and dispel the myths and lies told by some politicians, conservatives, and hate groups.
Family Equality Council is now working to empower them by announcing The Outspoken Generation, a national youth advocacy initiative involving the young adult children of LGBT parents. The program is designed to empower these young adults to raise their voices in support of LGBT families by speaking publicly at community events across the country, in front of local, state, and national legislative bodies, and directly to the media.
And who better to help lead the program than our friends and partners Ella Robinson and Zach Wahls.
Starting this spring, Wahls will meet with lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers during Family Equality Council's federal educational event, Family Weekend in Washington, from May 17 to 19. He will also serve on youth panels during our signature family event Family Week in Provincetown from July 28 to Aug. 4. Robinson will serve as keynote speaker and panel participant during the Midwest Family Equality Conference in Minneapolis on April 28. She will also participate in events surrounding International Family Equality Day at the LGBT Community Center in New York on May 6. This new program is currently working with partner organizations to begin planning panel discussions, public appearances, and policy briefings at other venues across the country featuring Zach, Ella, and other young men and women.
Although this program was borne out of conversations with LGBT families over the last year, the need for the initiative became increasingly clear following recent news that the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) considered a strategy of recruiting the children of LGBT parents to criticize their own families. It's clear now that NOM will stop at nothing in their efforts to demonize LGBT parents, and their malicious attempts to spread misinformation about these families will not go unanswered.
Zach, Ellam and the other young people who are part of this generation have told us that there is no one better to refute these myths and lies than our grown children.
In Zach's words:
When people like Rick Santorum or Maggie Gallagher falsely claim there is something "wrong" with parents like mine and other kids like me, what they fail to take into consideration is the fact that the challenges we endure only exist because they insist on putting us through them by making these intellectually dishonest arguments and statements.
Ella, too, shared her passion for this great initiative:
It takes a lot of courage to speak out about your family. I'm exceptionally proud of my family, and I take courage in the love that we have for each other. I would say the same thing to anyone, that regardless of what your family looks like on the outside, take pride in who you are, and don't be afraid to show that pride to others. It's the only way to demonstrate to the world the values that bind your family together.
The launch of the program coincides with the year-long celebration of Family Equality Council's 30th anniversary. For us, this anniversary is more than just a milestone for our organization; it's a mile marker for the families who have successfully raised this great generation of children into young adulthood.