Amidst a Fall season where tragic stories of anti-gay bullying have been fast and furious, Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns took some time during the city's regularly scheduled council meeting to share some truly moving personal experiences about growing up as a gay youth. He acknowledges growing up in a tough environment where he was taunted for his sexual orientation, and how that experience of bullying has affected him as adult.
The issue hits relatively close to home for Burns. In another Texas city, a 13-year-old student, Asher Brown, killed himself after severe anti-gay bullying. Asher's parents had complained to their Houston-area school about the bullying, but felt that the school district did little to change the toxic environment that Asher faced. The school district has yet to respond to hundreds of emails, and continuing pressure to address anti-gay bullying in their district.
Asher's suicide — as well as the suicides of Seth Walsh, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase, Justin Aaberg, Zach Harrington and Billy Lucas — moved Councilman Burns to share his very personal story.
“I was cornered after school by some older kids who roughed me up. They said that I was a fag, and that I should die and go to Hell where I belonged,” Burns said. "There is a conversation for the adults in this room and those watching to have ... this bullying and harassment in our schools must stop."
Councilman Burns pledged to work hard to make sure that schools in the Fort Worth area were safe spaces for all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Given the authenticity with which he delivers his own personal story, it's hard not to doubt his committed pledge.
"When I was 13, I was a skinny lanky awkward teen who had grown too tall too fast, who would stumble over his own feet ... as I entered adolescence, I started having feelings that I didn't understand," Burns said, adding that he remembers going home from school one day and contemplating suicide. "Ashamed, humiliated, and confused, I went home. 'There must be something very wrong with me,' I thought ... I have never told this story to anyone before tonight. 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."
Really powerful stuff, and made all the more powerful by the rousing ovation that Councilman Burns received at the end of his testimony.