This week, Oklahoma teenager Zach Harrington killed himself “after attending a city council meeting in Norman, OK where speakers made disparaging anti-gay remarks.” That’s what Joel Burns reported at the most recent meeting of the Fort Worth City Council, where he used his time on the floor to give one of the most moving “It Gets Better” speeches to date.
“There is a conversation for the adults in this room and those watching to have – and we will have it – that this bullying and harassment in our schools must stop, and that our schools must be a safe place to learn and to grow. It is never acceptable for us to be the cause of any child to feel unloved or worthless, and I am committed to being a part of that conversation.”
But, Burns continued, that conversation would have to wait. Instead, he chose to tell his personal story to a room full of colleagues who not only clapped, but gave him a standing ovation.
Burns is the gay son of a cowboy and Methodist church pianist. In ninth grade, Burns says, he was “roughed up” by older kids who “said that I was a faggot, and that I should die and go to hell where I belonged.” After that, Burns went home, scared. He doesn’t say what he did – because he got too choked up to talk about it – leaving one to imagine that he at least thought of and likely attempted taking his own life.
Burns admits that while he may face political repercussions for telling his story, he says, “This story is for the young people who might be holding that gun, or the rope, or the pill bottle. You need to know that the story doesn’t end where I didn’t tell it on that unfortunate day. There is so, so, so much more. Yes, high school was difficult. Coming out was painful, but life got so much better for me. And I want to tell any teen who might see this: give yourself a chance to see how much better life will get.”
Take a look: