Ash Beckham is going viral. The Boulder, Colorado resident is firing up the interwebs with her wildly shared video of a speech she presented at Ignite Boulder, titled "That's So Gay."
Beckham not only inspired the 850 people in attendance at the Ignite Boulder event on February 21, 2013, but she's quickly becoming a household name within the LBTGQ-and-allies population worldwide. In her 5-minute speech focusing on the importance of language in establishing a safe and caring culture wherever we go, she manages to be witty, provocative, and heartfelt. Using clip art, flow charts, and perfect timing, she came out all over again on the Boulder stage as an absolute natural born leader and LGBTQ advocate.
In case you haven't yet seen "That's So Gay" for yourself, here's the video.
As of the date of this publication, the video's already had well over 300,000 views on YouTube.
I'm honored to bring you a behind-the-scenes interview with Ash Beckham, especially for The We Belong Project readers. I asked her about her LGBTQ advocacy, what inspired her rousing speech, who inspires her, and so much more.
This month may be the first time you've heard of Ash Beckham, but it most definitely will not be the last.
Here's our interview:
TWBP: Congratulations on your amazing Ignite Boulder speech. It's getting amazing attention and helping to spread the message about how important our word choices are. I so appreciate you being willing to answer a few questions about yourself and your point of view on advocacy for the LGBTQ community. First of all, what's your background in LGBTQ advocacy?
ASH: I have been active in the community for 20 years but never as a leader or an advocate. Living a very out life and speaking directly to injustices I faced or witnessed personally was the extent of my advocacy. More one on one than big picture.
TWBP:How did your Ignite Boulder speech come about? What inspired you and how did you decide on this topic?
ASH: I went to Ignite Boulder 19 with a friend on a whim last December. We didn't have tickets, but bought some at the door. I was floored by the first speaker. It was a guy who talked about his ups and downs with weight loss. He was incredibly charming and slightly awkward and 100% authentic. And I thought, I can definitely do awkward and hopefully charming. Not really sure what I was going to say. One of the topics that I feel passionate about and personally connected to is gay rights. So my topic was "something gay." I decided that night that I would do the next Ignite expecting it to be in about 4 months. But 3 weeks later, Ignite posted that the next one would be February 21, which was about 6 weeks away. This time they did a nomination process so I bugged a buddy of mine to nominate me. She didn't even know that topic but must have made me sound glorious because about 2 weeks later I got an email that said I had made the cut and they wanted a brief idea of my concept. At that point, my idea had morphed into tolerance vs. acceptance. Then the incident at my gym happened and that became the focus. As I started to do research (for images mostly), I came upon a plethora of information and materials by amazing organizations aimed to eliminate the word ["that's so gay," used as a pejorative] from schools.
TWBP: In your speech, you managed to be kind, approachable, intelligent, and incredibly profound and inspiring. I think if more people approached important issues in this style, we could make progress in a more meaningful and progressive way. What was your mindset when you wrote your speech?
ASH: Thanks! I knew that the room I was walking into was not exactly a gay bar. It's Boulder, it's progressive, but I knew there would be folks in the room who had never even thought of this topic before. I did not want to sound preachy or soapbox-y. I also wanted to maintain the seriousness of my topic. I honestly believe that the vast majority of folks that use "gay" in a pejorative way are not cruel or hateful or homophobic. They truly don't know that their words hurt. Through a personal connection with someone (me, in this case) and just explaining to folks that they are impactful, that their words matter, people can change. They want to change. No one wants to be a jerk. Well, at least most folks don't. My point was, "Hey, I can't stop you from saying it. I want you to know the effect it has. If you still want to use the term, you at least know what you are doing." Most folks start to change once they know better. The people that say "so gay" in spite of that knowledge are folks that may be unmovable.
TWBP: What was your coming out process like?
ASH: Not too tough. It took me until college to figure it out. But once I did there was no question. My sister was on board from the get go. My parents took a bit longer. They needed to get their minds around the fact that the life they had envisioned for their daughter was going to go off script. They are absolutely amazing now and have been for years. I have a business with them back in the Midwest and we work together every summer. We are very close. They watched the stream live from Florida on vacation. My mom cried.
TWBP: Who inspires you?
ASH:Ellen [DeGeneres] for sure. She is very charming and disarming with her humor. It's hard for opponents to make her a villain. And her sexuality is a side note, as it should be. Also, my family (both given and chosen), for their tireless dedication to being authentically who they are. I am so incredibly lucky to have amazing folks in my life.
Truly this speech was inspired by all the nieces and nephews I have in my life. In the last 3 years, that population [kids who have gay parents, relatives, or loved ones] has exploded. Looking at those kids who have 2 moms or me as a lesbian aunt and knowing that they are going to have a hard time because they love me was really hard to take. The need for change became more urgent. I have 10 years to do my best so that the environment that exists when those kids get to middle school is as welcoming as possible. The clock is ticking.
TWBP: What's your favorite comeback or redirect when someone makes an inappropriate or culturally unsafe remark?
ASH: That is so hard. Certainly depends on the context. I make an initial safety judgement of my surroundings. If I am going to say something, I really try to say it gently or with a bit of humor. When I was younger, I would approach the situation aggressively and attempt to inflict the same kind of pain on that person that I was feeling from their remarks. It's different now. There are certainly situations where you make a strong stand like that. But in most situations, I feel like the best way to make change happen is through conversation. And I have rarely had a good one that starts from yelling or attacking, even if that is their first move. I have dated my fair share of therapists so usually I start with, "So what I hear you saying is . . ."
TWBP: Who are some of your favorite advocacy leaders?
ASH: Truly I would say the local folks at GSAs [Gay-Straight Alliance] or schools that are fighting the fight every day. Trying to change the world from their doorstep. That is tireless, often thankless work. But it is the difference. That is where change happens. One person at a time. And that doesn't come from legislation. That comes from peers and mentors and leaders making a stand!
TWBP: What would you tell a sexual minority person who is struggling with coming out due to fear of societal backlash?
ASH: It depends on the context. If you are a kid that is still in high school or middle school, you are a dependent in so many ways. And education is critical. And to borrow a phrase, it does get better. There is plenty of time to come out. Assess the safety of your situation. If you feel like you will have allies, get them lined up. Use all of the resources in your community to make that easier. I think kids have great gut instincts. If you feel safe, you probably are. If you don't, you probably are not. And it depends on personal need. Everyone hits a point in their life where they MUST come out and consequences be damned. It's such an individual decision. I would say, take care of yourself. Whatever that takes!
TWBP: You've become an instant celebrity and inspiration for many of us. What's next for you?
ASH: Ha! Still trying to figure that out. The feedback from across the country and around the world has been so amazing. I would like to continue to spread the word. Working with schools and groups to continue to make this change happen. I am speaking at a few events locally in Colorado in the next month or so. Then doing some virtual meetings with groups around the country. The possibilities and opportunities are overwhelming right now. But I can say the course of my life has been irreversibly changed. In the most amazing way.
TWBP: Anything else you can share about yourself?
I just want to give a quick shout out to my close friends and family in Boulder and around the country. Without their unwavering support, I would never have the confidence to have done any of this!
Ash, we are so very honored and thankful for this sneak peek into your world. Thank you so much for making such a positive impact in our society.
If you enjoyed this interview with Ash, please leave us a comment. Where have you yourself been an advocate for more cultural safety in your day to day life? How are you trying to make the world a happier and safer place for all people?
Bio: Ash Beckham is an energetic and dynamic public speaker. Her YouTube video, “I am SO GAY” has garnered 350,000+ view in less than 2 weeks. The video has been shown in classrooms and boardrooms around the globe increasing the number of actual views to well over 500,000. By blending honesty and humor, Ash delivers unforgettable talks about why we need to remove the word “gay” as a pejorative from our lexicon. Through a personal connection with her audience, Ash inspires people to individually change and be part of a bigger societal shift toward conscious word choice.
Photo Credit of Ash Beckham courtesy of Will Ruple Studios.