This week, I sat down with Ashley Cole, a fellow high school senior from North Carolina. Ashley made a touching and thought-provoking video about teenagers’ use of derogatory words and phrases like “that’s so gay.”
Ashley’s video perfectly exemplifies the positive potential of YouTube and the voice young women can have on the Internet. I think you’ll agree with me when I say, Thank you, Ashley for bravely sharing your message.
L: What inspired you to make the video?
AC: I was inspired by the actual thinkb4youspeak website. I saw the PSA’s that Wanda Sykes and Hilary Duff did for them and I became so motivated to think of a way that I could speak out against these hurtful terms. And as a lesbian, this is something that greatly affects me, so that motivated me even more.
L: When I first started blogging, I was nervous about putting myself out there into the online world. Were you hesitant about putting the video on YouTube?
AC: Oh, yeah, I was hesitant and definitely scared. I had no idea how people were going to react to this video. It’s frightening to think of the backlash and criticism that could come from putting something like this out there for everyone to see. But my school counselor, who was the first one to see it, had so much confidence in the video and in me that I felt I could handle whatever reactions came from this video.
None of this would’ve happened without my school counselor, Julia Taylor. Like I said before, she gave me the confidence to put it out there and has just believed in me from the very beginning. I mean I get all the credit for making the video, but she’s done a lot to help get it noticed, and it wouldn’t have gotten this far if it wasn’t for her.
L: How have your peers responded to the video?
AC: Believe it or not, I’m not actually sure how many of them have seen it. I go to a pretty conservative school so this type of thing doesn’t get around a lot. But that will change soon.
In a few months it’s hopefully going to be shown at my school on the day of silence that is put on by our GSA. The people who have seen it have mainly been family and family friends; because my parents sent it to everyone they know. All of the responses have been great though. They think it’s a powerful video and they’re proud of me for making it. They all agree that the use of these terms has got to stop.
L: Why did you choose to use Say by John Mayer?
AC: It just seemed to fit. It’s all about saying what you need to say. Having the courage to speak up, because more often than not, you’ll regret not speaking up when you had the chance. I don’t necessarily like John Mayer as a person (Guest blogger’s note: Amen to that!), but as an artist I respect his music and felt like there was no better song suited for this video.
L: It seems to me that your pledge is twofold. Can you talk about deciding not to use the hurtful words versus pledging to call others out on their use of derogatory words? Do you think people can do one without the other?
AC: For me, this pledge meant more than just saying that I’m never going to use these specific words ever again. It was really about being more aware of any of the words that come out of my mouth. We’ve all been in situations where we say the first thing that comes to mind, not caring or thinking about who it may hurt.
So this pledge has made me stop and think about what I’m going to say before I say it. And to call people out on their use of these kinds of slurs means that you can’t use them either. Otherwise you become a hypocrite. There’s no way you can call someone out on something they’ve said, if you’re guilty of saying it too. It takes a special person to be able to do both, not use hurtful terms and call others out on it. I think you have to be completely honest with yourself in order to do this.
L: The video is called “Thinkb4youspeak.” Do you think that kids simply do not understand the impact of their words? If so, how do you think teachers, parents or peers can promote awareness?
AC: Oh my God, yes. It’s evident in the sheer volume of slurs and derogatory terms that are thrown around at school every day.
I mean I was in English class the other day and we were doing group activities, and just from listening to people’s conversations, I heard “that’s so gay” and faggot used ten times. Ten times in a ninety-minute class, it’s ridiculous. And when you try to explain to someone why they shouldn’t use these words, they look at you like you’re speaking another language.
So yeah, kids don’t understand how much impact their words can have on others. And some teens today are so ignorant that they don’t even try to understand the power of their words. I think the only way this is going to stop is if other teenagers speak up. Teens are way more likely to listen to their peers than their parents or teachers.
“That’s so gay” has become a part of the teenage vocabulary; it’s like second nature for them to use it whenever they don’t like something. So if they hear their peers speaking out against it, especially the ones they look up to, then they’re more likely to stop using it themselves.