FORT WORTH, Texas — Last week, Joel Burns went from city councilmember to a nationally known face of courage, hope and inspiration after making a 13-minute statement about gay bullying that has reached millions.
The openly gay Burns took his allotted time during Fort Worth’s weekly council meeting on October 12 to bring attention to the rash of recent suicides of youth who were either LGBT or were perceived to be, and to tell the young people of his community that “It Gets Better.”
The recent news of the death of Zach Harrington from Norman, Oklahoma, was the final push Burns needed to speak out, he told MTV News.
“What better venue by which to address this than at my own city council meeting the next day?” Burns reasoned. “And so I basically took my lunch hour on Tuesday, wrote that out, and while it was still very fresh, and a little emotional, I read it on Tuesday night. I actually went back to my house because I knew that I would have a hard time actually writing it somewhere where someone could see me do that.”
During his emotional speech, Burns showed the council photos of recently deceased teens Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, Justin Aaberg, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase and Seth Walsh. He then haltingly told his own story of being harassed as a teenager.
Burns said there were two things he wanted to accomplish with his statement. First, he wanted to place a call to action that every adult has a responsibility to know that every kid has worth, and we have to take precautions to make sure that these kids are not being bullied or harassed in or out of school. The second goal was to reach kids who were in a dark place and let them know that even though there are going to be hard days that you just have to get through, there is a better future after that.
The video of his statement went viral almost instantly, and Burns said that just two days later, he had received over 7,000 e-mails and Facebook messages — including some messages from teens who are contemplating suicide. “I basically have an army of friends who I have given my e-mail passwords to and said, ’You have to help me watch and monitor this,’ because it is just me and my council aide,” Burns said.
Burns said he was surprised by the amount of media attention he has received for the statement. He was expecting to have local Fort Worth affiliates cover the meeting, but he has been inundated with media requests from around the world.
And in his attempt to bring hope to others, Burns said the response to his message has given him hope. He’s got at least one hope for the immediate future: “At Tuesday’s meeting, you can expect me hopefully not to cry,” he said, adding more seriously, “I don’t know, I think you’ll see at least one councilmember who perhaps approaches some of the realities of what kids face a little bit differently.”
To spread your own message of hope to victims of bullying and harassment, join MTV, Brittany Snow and the Jed Foundation in telling the world that Love Is Louder than hate. Visit the project’s Facebook page, upload videos to Your.MTV.com and use the hashtag #loveislouder on Twitter.