Fort Worth city councilmember Joel Burns catapulted to the top of the news circuit this week after making a tearful 13-minute speech about the struggles of LGBT teens in America today. With homosexuality becoming the national whipping post for political and societal divisions, teen bullying has escalated to epidemic proportions in the last several years. In only a few days, the video posted on YouTube of Burns’ speech at the Fort Worth city council meeting has attracted nearly 2 million views.
In recent weeks, the news has been filled with stories of teen suicide-mostly bullied gay teens. With the death toll mounting, Burns felt more and more compelled to speak out on the issue. However, he refrained until he heard the news of 19-year-old Zach Harrington’s death in Oklahoma, Burns told Matt Lauer on “The Today Show.” Harrington killed himself after attending a hate-fueled city council meeting. The news was too devastating and hit too close to home for Burns not to speak up.
At a Fort Worth city council meeting, Burns gave a compelling and heart-filled account of a string of recent teen suicides. He also shared his own personal struggles with being gay and feeling unaccepted in his home, school, and community. Burns stated that kids “said I was a f—-t and I should die and go to hell where I belonged.”
Turning Tragedy into Inspiration
Burns’ speech on the plight of LGBT teens in America has inspired legions of admirers. Burns’ simple platitude “it gets better” has become a rallying cry for LGBT teens struggling to find their place in a heavily divided social and political climate. In only a few days, Burns has had to hire teams to assist him in responding to letters, Facebook posts, and Twitter messages from teens reaching out for compassion, understanding, and at times even safety.
Four Inspirational Lessons from Joel Burns’ “It Gets Better” Message
1. Courage. Being openly gay and running for office in the United States takes a certain amount of courage. Joel Burns makes doing it in Fort Worth, Texas, seem completely natural. Probably not without challenges. However, the fact that Burns ran unopposed in his 2009 re-election campaign is a testament to his acceptance within the Fort Worth community.
2. Passion. Burns stated that he almost didn’t speak up about his concerns. Yet, despite possible political repercussions, Burns spoke out anyway-feeling that the issue was too important and personal to keep mum about. Instead of being labeled a political pariah, Burns received a standing ovation at the city council meeting, and has become an inspiration to millions. Many times, the greatest success stems from the greatest passion.
3. Husband. Without flinching, Burns spoke about his husband, J.D. Angle. He spoke about wedding rings, commitments, and never hesitated to use the word husband. Gay marriage will always be outcast in American society as long as it employs a distanced lexicon. There’s nothing wrong with expressing a psychological duality as a “significant other.” But a husband is a husband. And that’s something completely else.
4. Hope. “To those who are feeling very alone tonight, please know that I understand how you feel, that things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself. It may not seem like it tonight, but they will. And the attitudes of society will change. Please live long enough to be there to see it,” Burns stated in his speech.
A quick glance at human history is enough to witness how culture and perceptions about homosexuality, and every aspect of human sexuality, have dramatically shifted over time. Change is inevitable.
Joel Burns, Joel Burns tells gay teens “it gets better” www.joelburns.com, YouTube
Anna M. Tinsley, Fort Worth councilman offers hope to youths struggling with their sexuality, Star-Telegram
Damian Vaca, Fort Worth Councilmember Joel Burns Hears Back From Gay Teens, MTV
Tammye Nash, Joel Burns begs teens contemplating suicide: Give yourself a chance to see life get better, Dallas Voice
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