FORT WORTH — A Fort Worth City Council member broke down during Tuesday night's meeting.
Joel Burns made what colleagues said was among the bravest speeches they had ever heard, in which he shared a very personal story that not even his family knew — until now.
Burns began by showing photographs and names; suicide after suicide of young teenage boys who are dead because of bullying about their perceived homosexuality.
His voice thick with emotion, Burns told their stories:
- Asher Brown, a 13-year-old Cypress, Texas boy who shot himself.
- Justin Aaberg, a 15-year-old Minnesota boy who hung himself.
- Seth Walsh, 13, whose mother found him hanging by a rope from a tree at their California home. Doctors couldn't save him.
And then, Council member Burns talked about what happened to him when he was 13... years before he came out as a gay man.
"I was cornered after school by some older kids who roughed me up," he said. "They said that I was a f**, and that I should die and go to Hell where I belonged."
Burns’ thoughts went to the same dark places as those bullied suicide victims. “I think I’m going to have too hard a time with the next couple of sentences that I wrote. And also, I don’t want my mother and father to bear the pain of having to hear me say them.”
"I have never told this story to anyone before tonight," the Council member said, struggling to maintain his composure. "Not my family; not my husband; not anyone. But the numerous suicides in recent days have upset me so much, and have just torn at my heart.”
He went on to say, “This story is for the young people who might be holding the gun tonight, or the rope, or the pill bottle. You need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it, on that unfortunate day. There is so, so much more.”
Burns said he spoke Tuesday night to share this message: “Life got so much better for me…Give yourself a chance to see how much better life will get. And it will get better. “
Burns said he wished he could share later, happy memories with those suicide victims, and with the 13 year old version of himself. “You will find and make new friends who will understand you.”
Burns spoke of a day on a political campaign in 1992, “Where, for a very speechless moment, my now-partner JD and I saw each other for the first time.” He went on to describe proposing in 1999, against the background of a beautiful west Texas sunset, offering a ring he spent his last dollar on.
Other happy memories shared included winning his council race, the room erupting in cheers, surrounded by love and support.
Burns ended his remarks by giving out his phone number to anyone who might need his help.
Wednesday, Burns' message resonated around the nation through internet . He says he's received, "Literally thousands of emails and quite a few phone calls." Burns has also received inquiries from national television producers, and accolades from equality organizations.
"Perhaps it was not the political best thing for me to do, but that really wasn't the goal." The goal, Burns says, was to reach the kids who needed to hear him.