Tyesha Vinson/MJ
Tyesha Vinson/MJ

By TYESHA VINSON, Student Life Editor

Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black spoke at the University of Michigan-Dearborn this past Thursday.

Black is an Academy Award Winning screenplay writer, a social activist and a leader in the movement for marriage equality in the United States.

As a young child growing up in the Mormon Church, Black experienced a lot of people that told him that homosexuality was a sin. They told him that homosexuality was just as bad as murder.

Growing up, Black heard people say things like homosexuals are sinning, they are broken people, and people that acted on their homosexual thoughts would never get into heaven. Hearing comments like that caused him to have a struggle within himself.

Black felt that if that’s how people saw him and people like him then he would be better off dead. One of the directors from the theater he worked at in high school brought in a cassette tape of a speech by Harvey Milk, an American politician and LGBT rights activist.

In the speech, Milk spoke of hope for young, gay people. The words that Harvey Milk spoke saved him from taking his life at an early age.

Milk said, “Somewhere in Des Moines or San Antonio there is a young gay person who all of a sudden realizes that she or he is gay. Knows that if the parent finds out they’d be tossed out of the house, the classmates will taunt the child, and the Anita Bryant’s and John Briggs’ are doing their bit on tv. The child has several options staying in the closet or suicide.”

He continued, “Then one day that child might open a paper that says homosexual elected in San Francisco and there are two new options. Option is to go to California or stay in San Antonio and fight.”

That speech was a turning point in Black’s life that became a driving force in his career. Black is all about the fight for equal rights, not just for gay people, but also for racial and gender equality.

The inspiration Black received from Milk led him to write the screenplay for the movie Milk. His movie tells the story of an openly gay elected official in California that fought for LGBT rights in the 1970s.

Black’s passion for continuing the work that Milk started extended further than what we saw on the movie screen. The coming out of his brother and the need for full equality for gay and lesbian people led him to fight for marriage equality in California.

Black said in the speech he gave at the Oscars, “I promise gay and lesbian people, gay and lesbian young people specifically, full federal equality.”

He explained to the crowd, “It means that my wins in one area have the chance, at a certain point, of applying to everyone.”

Black came out in California, which is more accepting of gay and lesbian people. His brother didn’t have that same privilege. He lived in Virginia, which has no protection for gay and lesbian people. His brother’s sexual preference put him at risk of losing his job and other rights that are just given freely to most people.

Black said, “If I have a win in California or if there is a federal win here in Michigan it will apply to my big brother out there in Virginia. It means that the Constitution applies to everyone.”

The fight for equality went all the way to the Federal Supreme Court and he won. The victory was bittersweet for Black because his brother died during the four years it took to get the case to the Supreme Court.

Black said, “He will never know what it feels like to be a full American. He will never know what that feeling of liberation and that feeling of hope is like.” The statement about his brother is sad, but true.

There are a lot more people that will never get that chance because of death from natural causes or suicide. Which is why Black stressed the importance of telling your personal stories.

Black said, “What I need from you, whether you’re gay or straight, whether you’re an ally, frankly whether you’re a person of any kind of diversity I need you to get out there right now and start telling your personal stories.”

He wants people to tell their personal stories because one story has the power to change a person’s perspective on what diversity really is.

Each person fighting on the side of equality must have hope. Hope for LGBT rights and hope for the young gay and lesbian people that take their own lives because of how the world views them.

Harvey Milk said at the end of his speech, “Without hope, not only gays, but those Blacks, the Asians, the disabled, the seniors…the “Us’”. Without hope the “Us’” give up. I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it life is not worth living. And you and you and you got to give them hope.”