Black is a founding board member of the American Foundation for Equal Rights and writer of 8, a staged reenactment of the federal trial that led to a federal court's overturn of California's Proposition 8.
He was born in Sacramento, California, as Dustin Lance Garrison. His father walked out on his polio-stricken mother, Roseanna, and his two brothers, Marcus and Todd, when he was young. Following his mother's second marriage to Merrill Durant Black in 1981, he and his brothers were adopted by their stepfather and changed their surname to Black. They grew up in a Mormon household, at first in San Antonio, Texas, and later moved to Salinas, California.
Growing up surrounded by Mormon culture and military bases, Black worried about his sexuality. When he found himself attracted to a boy in his neighborhood at the age of six or seven, he told himself "I'm going to hell. And if I ever admit it, I'll be hurt, and I'll be brought down". He says that his "acute awareness" of his sexuality made him dark, shy and at times suicidal. He came out in his senior year of college.
While attending North Salinas High School, Black began to work in theater at The Western Stage in Salinas-Monterey, California, and later worked on productions including Bare at Hollywood's Hudson Main Stage Theater. Black attended the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Theater, Film, and Television (UCLA) while apprenticing with stage directors, taking acting jobs and working on theater lighting crews. He graduated with honors from UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television in 1996.
In 2000, Black wrote and directed The Journey of Jared Price, a gay romance film, and Something Close to Heaven, a gay coming-of-age short film. In 2001, he directed and was a subject in the documentary On the Bus about a Nevada road trip and adventure at Burning Man taken by six gay men. Raised as Mormon, he was hired as the only such writer on the HBO drama series Big Love about a polygamous family. He has written for all seasons, serving on season one as a staff writer, executive story editor in season two, and was promoted again, to co-producer, for season three.
Black had first visited San Francisco in the early 1990s, while AIDS was devastating the city's gay community. Black said that, "Hearing about Harvey was about the only hopeful story there was at the time." He had first viewed Rob Epstein's documentary The Times of Harvey Milk when he was in college, and thought, "I just want to do something with this, why hasn't someone done something with this?" Researching Milk's life for three years, Black met with Milk's former aides Cleve Jones and Anne Kronenberg, as well as former San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos, and began to write a feature film screenplay encompassing the events of Milk's life. The screenplay was written on spec, but Black showed the script to Jones, who passed it on to his friend Gus Van Sant, who signed on to direct the feature. Black is an old friend of Milk producer Dan Jinks, who signed on to the biopic after he called Black to congratulate him and discovered that the project did not have a confirmed producer.
Black's film Pedro, profiling the life of AIDS activist and reality television personality Pedro Zamora, premiered at the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival. Coming up, Paris Barclay is slated to direct his screenplay A Life Like Mine and Gus Van Sant is set to direct his film adaptation of Tom Wolfe's book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Black directed his own script Virginia, starring Jennifer Connelly.
On February 22, 2009, Black won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for Milk at the 81st Academy Awards. He wore a White Knot to the ceremony as a symbol of solidarity with the marriage equality movement.
On October 11, 2009, Black marched in the National Equality March and delivered a speech in front of the United States Capitol to an estimated crowd of 200,000 LGBT rights activists.
In 2010, Black narrated 8: The Mormon Proposition, a documentary about the involvement of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) in California's Proposition 8. Black accepted the award for best documentary for 8: The Mormon Proposition at the GLAAD Media awards in San Francisco and spoke out on discrimination in the LDS Church and meeting with the church to make it more LGBT-inclusive.
Black wrote the screenplay for J. Edgar, a biographical drama released November 11, 2011, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
In 2011, Black wrote the play 8, which portrays the actual events in the Hollingsworth v. Perry trial and the testimony which led to the overturn of California's Proposition 8. He created the play in response to the federal court's refusal to allow release of video recordings from the trial and to give the public a true account of what transpired in the courtroom. It is written and performed using original transcripts from the trial and journalist records, along with first-hand interviews of the people involved. 8 first opened at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in New York City on September 19, 2011, and later broadcast to a worldwide audience on YouTube from the Ebell of Los Angeles Theatre on March 3, 2012.
The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) and Broadway Impact, sponsors of "8", have now released and licensed the play for readings nationwide on college campuses and in community theaters free of charge.
Black appears as himself in the documentary film Hollywood to Dollywood (2012).
Black was the top entry on a list of openly gay influential people in The Advocate's "Forty under 40" issue of June/July 2009. He was featured on the cover of the magazine. He was one of the Official Grand Marshals in the 2009 NYC LGBT Pride March, produced by Heritage of Pride joining Anne Kronenberg and Cleve Jones.
On January 24, 2012, Black's brother Marcus, who was also gay, died of cancer.
Black has been in a relationship with British Olympic diver Tom Daley since 2013. They live together in London. In October 2015, it was announced that Black and Daley had become engaged. They married on May 6, 2017 at Bovey Castle in Devon.
In 2014, Black was one of eight potential commencement speakers invited by Pasadena City College, and he accepted. After school officials learned nude pictures of Black were stolen and leaked online five years prior, the college announced Black had not been officially invited and the unofficial invitation was "an honest error". After talks between Black's and PCC's attorneys, the college board of trustees apologized and formally invited him.Cinema for Peace Award for Most Valuable Movie of The Year 2009
UCLA's Distinguished Achievement in Screenwriting award, "UCLA Festival 2009: New Creative Work," School of Theater, Film and Television, June 10, 2009, Freud Playhouse
Distinguished Service to the LGBT Community by a UCLA Alumnus Award, 2009 UCLA LGBT Graduation Ceremony, June 13, 2009
Bonham Centre Award, for contribution to awareness and education around issues of sexual diversity , The Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, University of Toronto, September 27, 2011
Human Rights Campaign, Visibility Award September 15, 2012
Equality Arizona, The Barry Goldwater Human Rights Individual Award Sept. 2013