Putting Difference to Work

Photo credit: Janet Rogers, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications

Share them honestly to change the world

Casually entering Pierson Auditorium dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, the multi-talented, youthful-looking Dustin Lance Black spoke from his heart – and his experiences – encouraging the audience to get involved.

A director, screenwriter, producer and social activist, Black delivered the annual Pride Lecture at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. He provided stories from his life and action steps for those truly interested in working for civil rights for the LGBTQIA community, and for everyone.

“When I was about 7 or 8 years old, a priest explained what a homosexual was, and he instilled the fear of God in me,” said Black. “I learned that that thing about me was different, and not a good different.”

Born an extremely shy child and a Mormon, with a stepdad who was in the military, Black knew that he was not supposed to be gay. Throughout his life, people wanted to cure him of his shyness or whatever it was that made him different.

It was not until he was in college and heard part of Harvey B. Milk’s speech, “The Hope Speech,” that Black could finally be himself, and it gave him hope.

“Ten years after he [Harvey B. Milk] was gone, he gave me my life and a little strength,” said Black. “I could be a bit more of myself.” He began hanging out in the gay area of West Hollywood, but he was concerned about his family finding out. He also believed that he could never measure up against his older brother.

“I no longer knew what to talk about with my mom and my brother,” said Black. “I didn’t want to cry when she came to talk to me – like she always did – about ‘Don’t ask. Don’t tell,’ but I did. Then, she knew.”

His mom muttered through her tears, “What have I done to break my precious son and how can I fix it?”

Even though she didn’t say so out loud, Black knew she disapproved of him being gay; however, she still attended his college graduation. Black never told his friends that she disapproved, and they assumed she accepted Black. His friends loved her and shared their stories about being gay and lesbian, their devastating experiences and stories about the people they love.

“I met your friends, the grad students,” his mom said. It was at that point that “she hugged me, and was holding me for the first time, for me, in my life” said Black.

After a long series of anti-gay incidents and finally being accepted by his mom, Black began his fight for gay rights, including the successful federal case against Proposition 8 in California. He worked with legendary civil rights leader and social activist Julian Bond, and two successful Supreme Court lawyers, Ted Olson and David Boies.

Black said that two of his favorite things are storytelling and troublemaking, and he is able to do both in his career. He fought to save his brother, who he learned was gay but was afraid to come out, and for others afraid to come out.

“We must open our hearts and tell our personal stories, and those engaged in the battle for civil rights must have each other’s backs,” said Black. “We must stand together with others fighting for civil rights – whether it’s for voting rights, women’s rights or LGBT rights,” concluded Black.

Black encouraged those who have a passion for civil rights – or any issue – to see the problem, see the solution and act now. He added that individuals should take that passion, liberate themselves from any shame associated with whomever they are, and share their experiences with others.

“Do the research to find solutions; gather people who agree with you, as well as those who don’t; and go out and change the world for the better,” said Black. “Change the world with your differences, not your similarities, and share why your differences are valuable.”

|Wandra Brooks Green, Division of Strategic Marketing and Communications


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