Last month, LGBTQ activist Ash Beckham took the stage at Ignite Boulder 20 to speak out against society's misuse of the word "gay." Aimed at altogether eliminating the term as a pejorative from our lexicon, Beckham's rapid-fire five and a half minute presentation utilized jokes, photos and flow charts to get her point across.
More than a week after the event, Ignite Boulder uploaded a video of Beckham's speech to YouTube and her message spread quickly, garnering more than 330,000 views in just two weeks, as well as mentions on AfterElton, The Huffington Post and SheWired.
Because I was so inspired by Beckham's message and the grace and humor with which she delivered it, I reached out to her earlier this week to discuss how her speech came to be, the LGBTQ issues that matter most to her and where she finds inspiration.
CL: What have you been up to?
AB: Well, things have certainly changed for me in the last 10 days. Generally I do event work, mostly hosting softball tournaments in the Midwest and Colorado with my parents, but since Ignite Boulder happened I've received a multitude of requests to speak at fundraisers and local schools, so I'm trying to get my mind around all of that now.
For the first week I was blown away by the response of the Ignite Boulder speech. I was also kind of humbled and frozen. Now I feel like there's this huge wave of energy and excitement and passion about my topic and broader issues in the LGBTQ community and I feel like I have a responsibility to keep that moving.
CL: What inspired you to make that speech?
AB: I went to the previous Ignite Boulder event in December of 2012 and thought it was really cool and felt like I could get up and do one. I expected my next chance to be six months away as that had been the schedule for the previous few events, but they announced that the next one would be held in February, so if I made the cut I'd have about a month to prepare. There was a nomination process, so I called one of my best friends and asked her to nominate me. "Make me sound brilliant," I told her. She didn't even know my topic, but she must have nailed it because I got in and through the awesome and inspiring direction and feedback of the event organizers and the other speakers, I was able to take my wild idea and condense it down to its most critical parts, and the end product is what you see.
CL: How is what you're doing making a difference in the LGBTQ community?
AB: I hope my speech is making folks within the community feel less alone. I hope that it's giving them words where they didn't have them before. I think that we have come so very far in this country and are on the cusp of true legislative equality, but it's gotta be more than that. We need to have all folks—gay, straight, bi, trans, young and old—using words more consciously.
Almost two-thirds of LGBTQ students say they are harassed at school. High school is hard enough as it is and students these days are often just ignorant to the effects of the words they are choosing. Getting those kids to change and be more conscious of their words will push this issue over the tipping point. The majority of people that say "that's so gay" are not trying to be hurtful. They're just using the word because it's dominant in our lexicon. I truly believe the vast majority of people are not cruel, they're just apathetic to the effect of their words. I'm hoping to change that.
CL: What LGBTQ issue are you most passionate about?
AB: I'm most passionate about the protection of youth from bullying. Giving kids a safe space whether it be at school or on a team or wherever is so important. Just because you don't get your ass kicked doesn't mean you aren't getting bullied and harassed. We need to demand a higher bar. All of our kids deserve better. We would never tolerate a racial slur in those contexts. Homophobic slurs fall in the same category. The words you use can hurt, so choose them wisely. If someone still wants to use the word "gay" in a pejorative way, I can't help that, but I hope I can make sure that they know exactly what they're saying and the effect it has.
CL: Can you name the one person whose contribution to the LGBTQ community has inspired you most?
AB: I've gotta say Ellen DeGeneres has inspired me most. She's funny and charming and disarming and a really tough person to make a villain out of. She doesn't soapbox too often and she touches folks who would have never been part of the equal rights fight. She's America's daytime sweetheart right now and millions of her fans have to think, 'Remind me again why Ellen shouldn't be able to get married?'. She's made her sexuality a side story, as it should be. That's how societal change happens.
CL: If you could recommend one book, movie or song with an LGBTQ bent, what would your recommendation be?
AB: The first thing that pops into my head is Amy Ray's song "Let It Ring." It's an anthem and it's lyrical gold.
When you speak against me
Would you bring your family
Say it loud
Pass it down
And let it ring
You may cite the need for wars
Call us infidels or whores
Either way we'll be your neighbor
So let it ring
Basically, it means you can say what you want, but we still live on the same block. We still shop at the same stores and our kids still go to the same schools. We aren't going anywhere so you may as well get used to it.
The vast majority of folks who vote against gay marriage legislation are towing the party line. Would they really say those hateful or suppressive things with their children or grandchildren standing next to them? I doubt it. Whatever you say, you must be willing to say it loud. Own your words or keep them to yourself.
Note: A link to this post appeared on AfterEllen on March 14, 2013.