Texas Official Speaks Publicly About Growing Up Gay In the wake of recent teen suicides, many people are posting video testimonials telling young gays that, later in life, "It Gets Better." Joel Burns is an openly gay city councilman in Fort Worth, Texas. At a council meeting on Tuesday, he spoke about his painful experience as a gay teen. Host Melissa Block talks with Burns about that and his decision to speak out.

Texas Official Speaks Publicly About Growing Up Gay

Listen To Melissa Block's Interview With Joel Burns

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In the wake of recent teen suicides, many people are posting video testimonials telling young gays that, later in life, "It Gets Better." Joel Burns is an openly gay city councilman in Fort Worth, Texas. At a council meeting on Tuesday, he spoke about his painful experience as a gay teen. Host Melissa Block talks with Burns about that and his decision to speak out.

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

Then Councilman Burns, who is openly gay, said this.

JOEL BURNS: 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. And even though there may be some political repercussions for telling my story, this story is not just for the adults who might choose or not choose to support me. This story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight, or the rope, or the pill bottle.

BLOCK: Councilman Burns, thanks for being with us.

BURNS: I'm happy to be here.

BLOCK: That story that you said you've never told before, you actually couldn't bring yourself to tell before the chamber on Tuesday. Can you share any of what that experience was with us now?

BURNS: I also realized, I guess in retrospect, that that really - the specifics of where I was that one afternoon, which happened to be, you know, locked in my parents' bathroom actually, really is not so much the story as that for adults, we have to take on this issue of bullying and suicide. And then to the teenagers, and that it does get easier if they just let themselves live long enough to get to that point.

BLOCK: Do you think there needs to be a stronger message to schools, to administrators, to principals, that the bullying needs to stop, that they need to do something about it?

BURNS: But outside the statehouses, there's roles that people can play in terms of going to their local school boards and to their school administrators and having the conversation. And it is happening. It's happening in the Fort Worth Independent School District. I talked to the superintendent about it, actually a couple of weeks ago. But we have to keep doing that and keep doing more.

BLOCK: Well, after your address on Tuesday night, you got a standing ovation from your fellow city council members. What's happened since then? Have you heard from gay teens, from schools?

BURNS: I have received about 12,000 emails. And in fact, our city's IT department had to go in and adjust some resources just so that I can keep them coming.

BLOCK: Oh, wow.

BURNS: And, you know, if there's only one of those kids, then I was successful on Tuesday night. It was worth every tear shed. It was worth every bit of upset. It was worth, you know, even my mom and dad being upset if just one of those kids decided not to. And I've had a number tell me that is indeed the case.

BLOCK: Well, Councilman Burns, we appreciate you're talking with us. Thanks very much.

BURNS: I greatly enjoyed it. Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Joel Burns is a member of the Fort Worth City Council. The video of him telling his story at a council meeting this week has now been viewed by hundreds of thousands of people online. You can watch it at our website, npr.org.

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