Just been to THE most inspiring and amazing talk I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending. It was by Dustin Lance Black, at the Oxford Union. I had thought about maybe leaving early to go and finish coursework, and boy am I glad I stayed. I met him and Tom Daley beforehand, and immediately felt him to be an incredibly wise, grounded, experienced presence. I can see what Tom sees in him: he’s almost magnetic in his immense interestingness. He answered my question about advice for writers; championing individuality over commercially popular routes or genres of writing.
Then came the talk. He held a moment’s silence for the Manchester Arena attack of last night, which set the tone for an hour that held in it all the gravitas, and, importantly, hope, of a speech of one of the world’s most famous activists of times both past and present. He said it’s more important than ever that we come together and feel equal, but also that it’s time to hit out at those who don’t celebrate togetherness, *cough* Trump, and never to give in to fear. He addressed us all with such poise, never faltering his words, never doubting his argument or his purpose. He told us about the importance of stories, telling a few of his own along the way, including his first introduction to the word ‘homosexuality’, and his move to California, his first insights into what great leadership is (power and belief, passion and grace) and when his mother, a conservative Southern, Mormon woman, first truly accepted him for who he was, after his gay friends had told her their honest stories. He told us that the way to make change was to speak from the heart, to show people something through the power of anecdotal evidence, rather than argumentative and violent words or actions. He told us that you have to be yourself, as no one is like you; if you want to be a successful writer you can play the game, but once you’ve shown what you can do you should do your hardest to push what you actually love writing, to show that you’re the only person who can write that thing and write it well. He told us that you must be passionate about change, and not become complacent if something doesn’t affect you. He told us that in order to create diversity, you need a diverse team, sometimes comprised of unlikely allies, to create it. He told us his life story, and gave us hope for ours.
He addressed us as students of Oxford, showing us that, although we’ll come away from here with amazing knowledge and experiences, what’s really important is empathy, passion and curiosity. I asked him how to stand up to your peers, and those close to you with whom you may disagree, especially as there’s a rise at the moment of conservatism in those a bit younger than us. He told me to be patient as they inevitably have a reason to believe the thing they do, and that being ‘right’ isn’t everything. He told us that we shouldn’t help people to have their deserved rights because it’s charitable or the politically correct thing to do, but that it gives us power. Power against those who set out to create division and fear. It’s one step closer to a world that is ‘we’, and not lots of separate groups of ‘us’ (a paraphrase). He even had hope, as movements nowadays are comprised of black and white, gay and straight, male and female, showing that rights are no longer the main goal, but equality for all, fought for by all.
Above all, he taught me to push for what I believe in. There’s no point waiting for someone else to do it because you could end up doing it best. Classic me, but I couldn’t help a Harry Potter quote floating through my head: “It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”