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FEATURE: Dustin Lance Black on his new project, Harvey Milk and more
News update posted Sunday, June 12, 2011
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times
2011-06-15

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Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black ( Milk ) has a new project. The Courage Campaign has launched a nationwide video challenge with Black called "Testimony: Take a Stand," in which they look for stories from everyday Americans regarding LGBT equality.

Windy City Times: I know this is two years late, but congratulations on the Oscar win. I have to ask: Where do you keep your award?

Dustin Lance Black: Oh, thanks man—that seems like a lifetime ago. I actually gave the Oscar to my mom; she has it in Virginia.

WCT: Now on to the Courage Campaign. Could you talk about the "Testimony" project? It was launched on Harvey Milk Day [ May 22 ] .

DLB: Sure. I'm involved with the American Foundation for Equal Rights, or AFER; we're the ones involved with the federal case against Proposition 8 in California, and it's looking incredibly likely that it's going to end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. I look at that and I look at the time between now and then ... and I realized that we need to make it clear that America is trending towards equality.

There was a little bit of brainstorming about the most effective way to change minds and, with a little bit of research, it seemed that having gays or lesbians who feel unequal to actually meet other gays and lesbians, so that they can dispel the myths about gay and lesbian people. So we thought, "Hey, why don't we start to collect stories from across the nation—especially stories about diversity?" This diversity is not racial, but it's religious, it's geographic, it's about what kind of job you hold, what your family looks like. We want to demonstrate that the [ gay community ] is everywhere, that we're represented in every community and that we can defy preconceived notions about who and what we are.

Some of the ones we've received already have been very surprising. There are stories from religious communities, about people who are trying to reconcile their belief in God with their sexuality. However, this movment has a bunch of white guys running it—and we do need to hear from other racial communities. We certainly have to reach out to Black and Latino communities and change minds.

Over the summer, we'll share some of these stories on the Courage Campaign's website and on the radio. Say we get a moving video from Bedford, Texas; I'd like to show that video back in that area of Texas so that people there know that there are others in the community who are suffering from inequality.

In the end, we'll select three stories and I'll go to those hometowns to shoot those as public-service announcements. The idea is to take this video project to some of the groups in some of those areas.

WCT: Are you more inclined to go with smaller towns, where some think more outreach is needed?

DLB: The final three is determined by budget, but I also think that those three need to be incredibly diverse. So, I doubt that all three will be from a big city. There'll probably be one that represents a more metropolitan area, but these small towns need help. I hope, in the end, that the stories are incredibly surprising; I think that's what's going to be incredibly illuminating.

WCT: The campaign kicked off on Harvey Milk Day. If you had five minutes with Harvey, what would you ask him or say to him?

DLB: Oh, boy. If I only had five minutes, I would ask him what his next steps were going to be.

I think the man had such strength and such a strong conviction that we are equal. He, unlike so many leaders today, was able to shed that self-loathing many of us grew up with. He was unapologetic about who he was and how God made him. I think that's why he was able to make incredible progress so quickly. He made bold moves in the face of people saying, "Don't go there. It's not time yet." So I'm very curious about what he would've done next.

I know he wanted to march on Washington, D.C. In his last few weeks, he talked about taking the fight [ for gay rights ] to [ then-President ] Jimmy Carter. That propelled me to say, "Hey, let's take this fight to the federal government." However, I can only infer that, so it'd be great to hear what his actual strategy would've been.

[ Milk's death ] was such a great loss. We haven't seen the likes of him since.

WCT: As you know, June is Pride Month. What are you proud about concerning the LGBT community?

DLB: I think we have a lot to be proud of right now, in terms of our progress in the gay movement. Finally overturning "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is something to be incredibly proud of. Winning this case in California in federal court and being that much closer to an eventual federal decision that would give marriage to all Americans in all 50 states—that's something to be incredibly proud of. Attached to that is the progress we've made in everyday Americans' opinions of equality for gay and lesbian people.

Sometimes I have to step back and say, "Boy, we've come a long way in a short amount of time." It seems that this new energy in the movement started at about 2008, and so many things have happened in that time and so many gay and lesbian groups have contributed.

That said, it's not time to let up. Civil rights is this [ constant ] game of winning and losing; it's this pendulum. We need to make sure we protect our gains as we move forward. I do think, to bring it full circle, that we do that by continuing to be out and to introduce ourselves to others. That's the difference between us and other minority groups: Some of us are not immediately identifiable.

We have to continue to tell our stories, and they don't have to be depressing. It can be about how joyous it was to have your first kid or to be married or your first kiss or how surprisingly wonderful it was to come out to your parents.

Record and upload a video no more than two mintues long telling a story in support of LGBT equality by no later than 11:59 p.m. PT on Wed., June 15; see www.couragecampaign.org/page/s/dustin-lance-black-testimony-challenge. At the end of this search, Black's film crew will choose three; fly to three separate locations to film these stories; and share them with the country in a television ad campaign.


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