A Holiday Hero: Joel Burns

After a number of teenagers took their own lives this year due to anti-LGBT bullying, Fort Worth District 9 Councilman Joel Burns delivered an impassioned 13-minute speech during a council meeting which was captured on video and went viral on the Internet. For his fierce honesty, bravery and desire to help others, I think Burns deserves a place in Care2′s spotlight as a Holiday Hero.

Joel Burns Tells Personal “It Gets Better” Story

During his speech, Burns told of how he felt “ashamed, humiliated and confused” when he was harassed by kids at his school because of his perceived sexuality, bullying that almost led him to… he couldn’t finish that sentence, but the implication was clear—he had been suicidal. Fortunately did not go through with it.

Burns said, he wished he could reach back through the years and tell his 13-year-old self how life would get better, how he would find acceptance from his family, how he would eventually meet the love of his life and how, in spite of the discrimination that still exists, he would be elected as a councilman for District 9 in 2008 and be able to use his place in the world as a platform to make things better for others.

Below is the video of Joel Burns speaking from the heart and moving a room of council members to a standing ovation. He represents a growing chorus, not just of people saying “It Gets Better”, but of individuals committing to actually making things better with their words and, crucially, their actions.

It’s a long video. It’s worth every second:

What Came After Joel Burns’ Speech?

After the video went global, Burns received a great deal of praise. He has, in fact, become a high profiled advocate for LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying legislation, having made appearances on CNN, The Ellen Degeneres Show and more.

Most recently, Burns was endorsed by The Victory Fund which works to elect LGBT candidates to office on the grounds that, if they are qualified, their sexual orientation or gender identity should not be used to deny them a place in office.

Writing on what makes Burns worthy of endorsement, The Victory Fund notes:

Burns told a story about himself as a 13 year-old who had been targeted by anti-gay bullies.  He admitted considering suicide, and ended by urging teenagers who were struggling with similar thoughts to keep fighting.  “It gets better.  It gets a whole lot better,” Burns said through tears.

That video has now been viewed by millions around the world, and the media attention Burns received exposed millions more to a simple truth:  Openly LGBT people can lead successful and happy lives while being authentic about who they are and who they love.

Burns chose public service because he cares deeply about Fort Worth.  Above all, he is dedicated to the people of District 9 and to making his city a better place for all of its citizens.  But his status as the only openly gay elected official in Tarrant County also makes him a role model for thousands of LGBT people across the county who too often do not see themselves in their government.

Burns continues to advocate for tougher LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying legislation and actively works to get at-risk youth the help they need when dealing with bullying and suicide-related issues.

Burns will be running for reelection in May, 2011

Connect with Joel Burns:

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Photo taken from the Joel Burns public Facebook page, no infringement intended.


Annmari Lundin
Annmari Lundin7 years ago

Everyone is responsible to put a stop to bullying and Joel Burns is a role model for everyone of us! Great speech and so honest. Thanks for posting Care2!

Claudia McCall
Claudia McCall7 years ago

How many Joel Burns would there be if we could only put a stop to bullying? Easier said than done, I know, but a worthwhile goal to start 2011 with.

Stephen Young
Stephen Young7 years ago

great man

Lynne B.
Lynne Buckley7 years ago

Joel is a hero and thoroughly deserves to be a holiday hero. His speech was incredibly moving. Thanks Joel for making a difference, unlike so many of the hollow politicians you read about daily.

Francesca Doria
Past Member 7 years ago

A hero holds purposes appropriate to man and is, therefore, a thinker.
Andrew Bernstein

ilse D.
.7 years ago

read with pleasure, thanks

gerlinde p.
gerlinde p7 years ago

an inspiring man, thanks for the article

Kay L.
KayL NOFORWARDS7 years ago

Joel Burns sounds like a great role model for everybody, including straights.

Jane H.
Jane H7 years ago

Wonderful to see and read about these holiday heroes--thanks Care2 for all you for all of us!

Norma V.
Norma Villarreal7 years ago

"It gets better..." as we express our courage and compassion for those who feel like they have come to the end of their rope. Thank you, Joel Burns.