February 23, 2011 | by Juliette Ebner
Out at the Oscars

The screenplay category may be Oscar's gayest award — when Dustin Lance Black won for 'Milk,' he was the third known openly gay man to win in that category. (Photo courtesy of AMPAS)

The 83rd annual Academy Awards is Sunday and there are a few LGBT favorites hoping to walk up to the stage and accept an Oscar.

“The Kids Are All Right” is up for Best Picture and Writing (Original Screenplay) and a couple of its stars, both straight, are nominated too. Annette Bening is up for Actress in a Leading Role and Mark Ruffalo is nominated for Actor in a Supporting Role.

The other Best Picture nominees are “Black Swan,” “The Fighter,” “Inception,” “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours,” “The Social Network,” “Toy Story 3,” “True Grit” and “Winter’s Bone.”

Benning is up against Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman and Michelle Williams. Ruffalo is up against Christian Bale, John Hawkes, Jeremy Renner and Geoffrey Rush.

If she wins, Lisa Cholodenko, the director and co-writer of “Kids,” would not be the first openly gay person to win an Oscar.

Melissa Etheridge and Elton John — both openly gay — have won Oscars for Best Original Song. Etheridge won in 2009 for “I Need to Wake Up” from “An Inconvenient Truth” and John won in 1994 with “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” from “The Lion King.”

Other gay winners have been behind the scenes and are not all household names. Costume designer Albert Wolsky, an 80-year-old French costume designer, won for “All That Jazz” and “Bugsy.” Australian animator Adam Elliot, who won in 2004 for “Harvie Krumpet,” a clay-animated short film, is also gay as was the late Howard Ashman who won twice (once posthumously) in the song category for his lyrics in the Disney films “The Little Mermaid” and “Beauty and the Beast.” Spanish director Pedro Almodavar is gay and has two Oscars. Bill Condon won for his “Gods and Monsters” screenplay in 1998. Another gay screenplay winner was Alan Ball for “American Beauty.” Young actress Anna Paquin recently came out as bi years after winning the supporting actress Oscar for “The Piano” as a child.

Another gay winner, Dustin Lance Black won Best Writing (Original Screenplay) in 2009 for his work on the film “Milk.”

“Winning an Oscar for that film was unbelievably meaningful,” Black said in an interview with the Blade. “That project was so meaningful to me … and whose lives are depicted in it. So many of them were there in the room that night.”

Black was not the only person to win for “Milk.” Sean Penn won Best Actor for his depiction of Harvey Milk.

Producer Dan Jinks won Best Picture for “American Beauty” with his production partner Bruce Cohen in 2000. He was also nominated in 2009 for “Milk.”

“The whole experience was pretty surreal,” says Jinks about winning. He remembers feeling a sense of relief because he “loved the movie so much,” hugging his boyfriend, who was sitting next to him, and then hugging his parents.

“I remember walking up the steps, and looking down at my foot … as it was landing on the lit up step going up to the stage and saying ‘Wow, I have got to remember this moment for the rest of my life,’” he says.

Once on stage, neither Black nor Jinks pulled out a piece of paper with their speech on it.

“I think that anybody who’s nominated for an Oscar is an idiot if they don’t prepare something,” Jinks says. He also had to coordinate with Cohen on who was going to say what.

The Academy does prep nominees on what to do and say if they win. According to Black, nominees receive a DVD with examples of good and bad speeches.

“You just hope yours will be counted amongst the good,” says Black.

Black, who first heard the story of Harvey Milk when his parents moved to California from Texas when he was 13, said in his acceptance speech, “It gave me hope … It gave me the hope one day I could live my life, openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married.”

Black thinks his Oscar win has allowed him the opportunity to work on films with some more challenging subject material.

“I’m not sure that something like this film I’m doing right now, ‘J. Edgar Hoover,’ would have been met with the same sort of enthusiasm,” says Black, adding that the Oscar might get him more meetings. “But in the end, the work has to be good.”

With the success of films like “Milk,” the Academy, which both Black and Jinks are members of, seems to be fairly gay friendly.

“It seems to be getting increasingly gay friendly,” Black says. He says it reflects society and the membership is changing just as much as America is changing.

The Academy was founded in 1927 by 36 people in the industry at the time. There are now more than 6,000 members ranging from actors and actresses to executives and public relations specialists.

“I’m certainly one of those who will look back the year of ‘Brokeback Mountain’ and feel like ‘Boy, ‘Brokeback Mountain’ should have won Best Picture that year,” Jinks says. “One wonders if the scales weren’t tipped by people who were not wanting to give that film an Oscar because of homophobia.”

Jinks added that he has never felt any homophobia from the Academy personally, but he has heard anecdotes from the “Brokeback” era that suggest that, at least then, there were some lingering anti-gay sensibilities among members.

Many news organizations labeled the 78th Oscars as the “Gay Oscars” based on the nominations for movies “Brokeback,” “Capote” and “Transamerica.”

Only “Capote” won its Oscar that year. “Crash” walked away with the Oscar for Best Picture.

Black walked the “big” and “long” red carpet with one of the people depicted in his film, Cleve Jones.

For Jinks, the red carpet was fun and odd.

“The ‘American Beauty’ year, one of the most fun parts was being interviewed live by Joan Rivers because she’s such an icon,” says Jinks. “I grew up … being that kid on the playground … feels like ‘OK, I’m the unpopular one’ … and all of a sudden, there I am on the red carpet at the Academy Awards where famous people are wanting to interview me.”

Other memorable moments for Jinks were wearing a tuxedo made for him, seeing his mother talking to Steven Spielberg at the Governor’s Ball, and being interviewed by Matt Lauer on the Today Show at 4:30 a.m. while he was supposed to be at a party thrown for him and Cohen.

He also had a goal for the night, it being his first time at the awards. He really wanted to meet Meryl Streep and was introduced to her during a commercial break.

“It was something that I wanted to do, and I got a big kick out of the fact that I got to do that,” he says.

And of course, the biggest question is where do they keep their Oscar?

Black’s Oscar remains with his mother in Virginia. He gave it to her after making the press rounds and returning to the Kodak Theatre.

Jinks’s Oscar is in a little cubby in his living room.

“I kind of forget it’s there,” Jinks says. “It’s really when … I have a house guest or a plumber or something that will say, ‘Oh my gosh, is that an Oscar?’ That’s when I notice it.”

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