Ash Beckham — No Activism Is an Accident

Jacqui Bunch
Alturi Contributor

They call it the “best coming out speech ever”. And it was written by an ordinary, “accidental activist.” Ash Beckham is a world-renowned author, motivational speaker, and inclusion activist who ignited a viral firestorm with her inspiring TED Talk “Coming out of Your Closet.” The riveting speech reminds us all “we are ALL in the closet.” Every soul that has ever lived can relate to the oppressive, suffocating shadows of not being able to be who you are. To not have the voice to have the tough conversations and be honest about what we believe, who we are, and how we want to live. The brave act of speaking that truth? Activism.

Ash is an unstoppable force in activism without ever trying to be. Her fearless, relatable, and hilarious approach has made her a sought-after speaker, regularly crushing it for events for educational summits, corporate trainings, churches, Boeing, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, Bank of America, and even headlining Harvard University’s first LGBTQ Conference. She is a frequent contributor of thought-challenging op-eds for various magazines and blogs and has a top-selling book out now:  “Step Up: How to Live with Courage and Become an Everyday Leader”.

Ash delivers a powerful message of empathy, respect, and how there can be no authentic activist leadership without them. As an equality advocate and workshop facilitator, she is dedicated to sparking these uncomfortable, essential conversations about acceptance to audiences across the globe. Her comical approach to reminding others there is a vast difference between acceptance and tolerance is what we believe should be step one in everything- from police officer training to educator coaching. Ash changes the world one conversation at a time with a relatable and entertaining approach.

The “accidental activist”: “I never set out to do the speaker/author bit. I felt compelled to speak my mind and connect with people thinking it would end in a small auditorium in Boulder. Then the TED talk got traction online, and I felt responsible for riding the wave. It was never on purpose, but sometimes you find yourself in situations that give you purpose. How can you say no to that?”

“Cancel Culture”: “I think it’s bullshit. Not because we call people out for making mistakes – we have a collective responsibility to do that. It is bullshit because it leaves no room for error. You cannot make a mistake and then atone. You are one and done. That doesn’t make the world a better place. It scares people into staying silent or having safe conversations when we need to empower people to have difficult conversations. That is how we move forward as a culture. If you are having hard conversations and don’t screw up, you are not pushing yourself. But cancel culture rewards playing it safe. Instead of moving us forward, it pushes us back. It gives the critic the power, not the person in the trenches doing the work.”

Empathy is Imperative: “I think empathy is the most fundamental skill we can learn as humans. Empathy does not require that we agree with someone. Just that we are willing to see things from their perspective. Empathy is not a threat to our conviction or point of view. It is merely treating someone else with dignity and respect to see where they are coming from – to see your “adversary” as human. That skill changes your entire calculation of others. Imagine a world where we saw each other that way. Empathy changes everything.”

Activism Never Ends: “I think the hardest thing is realizing there is no finish line. If you are an activist in any capacity, you have to be in it for the long game. For every mind you change (or at least get to question their beliefs even slightly), there are dozens more out there. It can be exhausting. But to me, that illustrates the importance of allies. The more people willing and empowered to advocate, the lighter the burden is on the individual. The recent attacks on queer and Trans youth by local governments are certainly a low point. For those in power to use the most marginalized, least empowered constituents as career springboards is abhorrent. But rage is paralyzing, so we must funnel that rage into action.”

Ash Beckham wants us to remember: “You can lead from exactly where you are.” No privilege is required, and no titles, ages, or specific degrees. Once you decide to lead, you are a leader and believe in your ability to shed light on the path we all walk. Have those hard conversations, and do it with empathy. Activism is not as complicated as we make it out to be-often it is just to SPEAK your TRUTH.

Learn more about inclusive leadership and connect to Ash here:

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