Joel Burns, an openly-gay councilman in Ft. Worth, Texas, gave a speech in which he assured gay teens that “life gets better.” What the courageous Burns did not know was that his speech would both garner national attention and save the lives of many gay and lesbian young people.
Burns gave the speech in response to the news that a young, 19-year old teenager named Zach Harrington had taken his life one week after attending a City Council meeting in Norman, Oklahoma. The council had debated issuing a proclamation declaring October as “Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month” in the city.
Although the council eventually voted 7-1 in favor of the proclamation, a heated debate preceded the vote in which some citizens voiced typical right-wing, anti-gay talking points, including the assertion that “members of the GLBT community would use it to infiltrate the public school system, essentially allowing the ‘gay lifestyle’ to become a part of the curriculum.”
Burns, who gave out his phone number during the powerful, deeply moving speech, has reportedly received over 800 calls from young gay and lesbian young people, many of whom were contemplating suicide.
One such call was from a young woman in Australia who told Burns that she had urged her young gay friend to watch the speech, knowing that he was struggling with his own sexual orientation.
After he had done so, he confided in her that he had been planning to take his own life that weekend, but had decided against doing so after watching what Burns had to say.
The speech, which the brave Burns assumed would only make local news, has now been viewed over 1.2 million times on You Tube. It’s worth watching.