National spotlight on FW councilman's emotional speech

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by CHRIS HAWES

WFAA

Posted on October 14, 2010 at 12:23 AM

Updated Thursday, Oct 14 at 3:50 PM

FORT WORTH — It was an ordinary Fort Worth City Council meeting Tuesday night until member Joel Burns made an extraordinary admission.

He had been bullied as a gay teenager.

That public admission of his pain and his campaign for change is now getting attention nationwide.

Burns, who was elected in 2007, is well known to Fort Worth as a confident, openly gay City Council member.

But on Tuesday night, Burns shared what his life was like as a young boy of 13 — beaten up and terrorized because bullies realized he was "different."

"They said I was a f*****, and that I should die and go to hell where I belonged," he told the Council in an emotional message. "That erupted the fear that I had kept pushed down that what I was beginning to feel on the inside must be showing on the outside."

Burns has followed recent stories of teens who killed themselves after being bullied for their sexual orientation. But it was a story he saw this week that pushed him to make Tuesday's address.

It was about a teenager who attended a debate in Oklahoma about whether the city would recognize a Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History Month in his city.

"And because of what he heard there, in part, went and killed himself," Burns said. "That was the thing that really drove me to... OK, I have to do something now."

Burns said his message to young people facing personal challenges is that life does get better, pointing to his many friends, and husband of 11 years.

On Wednesday, that message resonated around the nation via the Internet. Burns said he received literally thousands of e-mails and quite a few phone calls — including calls from national television producers.

His public statement also earned accolades from equality organizations.

"Perhaps it was not the political best thing for me to do, but that really wasn't the goal," Burns said.

His goal was to reach the children who needed to hear him.

E-mail chawes@wfaa.com

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