Michael Hamar

Joel Burns Named Finalist For "Texan of the Year"

Filed By Michael Hamar | December 15, 2010 8:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: anti-gay bullying, coming out of the closet, Fort Worth, Joel Burns, Texas

At the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce ("NGLCC") last month I had the privilege of meeting and speaking with Fort Worth, Texas, City Councilman Joel Burns (pictured at left). He is an amazing individual (and taller and cuter in person than on video and in photos) and I continue to feel shudders run through me when I think of his amazing statement during an open session of the Fort Worth city council about his own life and the fact that it can get better. The You Tube video of his heartfelt and moving statement went viral and cannot but have touched many hearts and minds - both gay and straight.

Obviously, Joel Burns took a risk politically when he made his public statement but sometimes coming out and live your life proudly can and does create change. Now, Joel Burns has made the list of finalists for "Texan of the Year" and the Dallas Morning News has an editorial on this notable achievement. Congratulations to Joel Burns! Here are highlights from the Morning News editorial:

Joel Burns was the picture of courage. Fort Worth's openly gay city council member had privately carried the pain of anti-gay bullying he suffered while growing up in nearby Crowley. Even his parents didn't know the depths of his despair - until they found out in a very public way this fall.

In the opening moments of a City Council meeting, Burns used his microphone to reflect on a half-dozen teenagers who ended their lives rather than endure another minute of harassment. And he tearfully talked about his torment. "When someone like him who is so laid back speaks out so passionately, you know it really matters to him," said state Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth.

Burns' appeal has inspired anti-bullying legislation in Texas, an outgrowth that could well save young lives. Burns has appeared on national and international radio and TV shows and received thousands of supportive e-mails and voicemails. Some are emotional and graphic testimonies from youngsters who said they were on the verge of suicide until they heard Burns speak. For his uncommon, selfless courage to spare others, Burns is a finalist for 2010 Dallas Morning News Texan of the Year.

Inspired by Burns, [Senator Wendy] Davis filed a bill to require Texas school districts to combat all forms of bullying and report annually the number and whether they were based on race, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Districts would be required to educate employees, students and parents on the seriousness of all forms of bullying. "It's not children who are responsible for ending bullying in the schools," Burns says. "It is the responsibility of teachers, parents, administrators and our legislators."

"It's been heartening and emotional getting to talk to people all over the country about bullying experiences," Burns says. "And I do believe it gets better. For the teenager who was planning to take his life, just waking up the next day is better."

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If he wins, I'll eat my hat. Not in Texas.