A couple of years ago, a 4-year-old girl innocently asked Ash Beckham whether she was a boy or girl.
As a waitress in a Boulder, Colo., cafe, the question had been posed to her often. But when she looked down, she saw staring back at her “just a kid with a question.”
Her answer was simple: “You know how sometimes you like to wear a pink dress, or sometimes you like to wear comfy jammies? Well, I’m a jammies kind of girl.”
Ms. Beckham, 40, a 1991 Sylvania Northview High graduate, relayed that story at a TEDxBoulder independent speaking event in September. Ms. Beckham, openly gay, since has received accolades from national media outlets for the speech that touched on the struggles of coming out of the closet.
The TEDxBoulder speech has gone viral, with about 3.7 million views on YouTube.
“I tried to convey that if you haven’t come out [of the closet], you don’t know what that feels like. Someone that is straight will not know what that feels like,” she said, noting that at some point, everyone has struggled with his or her “closet,” or an issue that calls for a difficult conversation.
Finding commonality is key to empathy, and a uniting factor, she said. “There is always someone running faster than you, or someone running slower. It’s hard for all of us,” she said.
Maryann Beckham, 66, of Sylvania said her daughter always had that “rock star” quality, and inherited that “Let’s try it” attitude from her father, Bill, 66.
Ms. Beckham said before this year, her public speaking experience was giving a toast at her sister Mandy Summers’ wedding. But as an aunt to two nieces and with a lesbian couple as housemates who have children, Ms. Beckham didn’t want those important little ones in her life to be subjected to harassment or overhearing the word “gay” used as a slur. “I didn’t want them to be in school and have a hard time because someone they love is gay,” she said.
So she signed up for Ignite Boulder, a speaking event in which presenters have five minutes to teach something to an audience. In February, she delivered a speech that broke down “that’s so gay” stereotypes, which is when her name received online recognition, and prompted the TEDxBoulder speech. TED, an acronym for Technology, Entertainment, and Design, is owned by a nonprofit foundation and encourages not only those concepts but other innovation.
Ms. Beckham said she didn’t realize she was gay until she went away to college at Ohio State University and played hockey with lesbian teammates. “There was no one on TV that was gay or role models,” she said.
For more information about Ash Beckham and to view her speech, visit ashbeckham.com.