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Dustin Lance Black, Octavia Spencer Get Personal

Dustin Lance Black, Octavia Spencer Get Personal

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Being a Mormon from Texas, Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black had always been fed negativity about homosexuality, he said at an event on Wednesday. The disparaging remarks followed him thousands of miles to Virginia when he relocated there with his family as a teenager.

It was not until he started studying at University of California, Los Angeles, that Black accepted who he was. When he came home during the winter break of his senior year, he found his mother preoccupied with the military's new policy, "don't ask, don't tell." Being part of a military family, Black's mother backed DADT and proceeded to express her views to her son, which ended up provoking tears. At that moment, she knew her son was gay. She was devastated. It wouldn't be until his friends shared their coming out stories and spoke of their own parents' rejection that Black's mother accepted him for who he is.

Black told his coming out story to nearly 300 people crowded into Los Angeles's Pacific Design Center to help celebrate diversity with the Characters Unite Project, backed by USA Network and storytelling organization The Moth.

"This kind of program in school is helping lead to equality" by exposing students to the differences of their peers, Black said.

Other storytellers included The Help's Octavia Spencer, model and paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins, comedian Greg Walloch and the founder of Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy Tim King. The evening was hosted by actor Nathan Lane.

Ten students from Thomas Jefferson High School in East Los Angeles were selected to share their stories as the project makes its ninth stop. They attended Wednesday night's event to help see what they would be doing on stage for their peers. The students, along with the other 300 people in the auditorium, listened as five story tellers shared their stories of discrimination.

Characters Unite picks students from one local school to talk about their own experiences with racism, discrimination, or bullying. At the end of a week, they present their stories to their peers.

The students will share their stories Friday in front of 400 of their peers. Each student responded that they felt better after seeing such prominent figures tell their own stories. "Seeing them up there makes me more confident that I can do this," Carla Telayr, student at Thomas Jefferson High School, said. "If they can do it, I can do it."

Dustin Lance Black talked of how he came out to his mother for the first time on stage at the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles.

The event was hosted by Nathan Lane, who provided comic relief after some of the harder stories.

Actress Octavia Spencer spoke of her fear of playing Minnie in The Help. Her perseverance led to an Oscar nomination and the inspiration to use her voice to advocate for change.
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