Grand Marshal Burke Burnett is building a legacy for his sons
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
Tammye Nash | Managing Editor
For Burke Burnett, just being nominated as grand marshal of the 2016 Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade was “amazing.” But to actually have been chosen by a community vote to be grand marshal was “beyond amazing, a huge honor.”
“There are so many great examples of LGBT leadership in Dallas, so many great leaders who weren’t nominated, so I am tremendously honored to have been chosen,” Burnett said.
Burnett said he has drawn inspiration from many of those people he cites as great examples of leadership, especially activist C.D. Kirven.
“She’s founded multiple LGBT nonprofits, fought tirelessly for equal rights for same-sex couples and families, spoken at the U.S. Supreme Court [during hearings on the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s anti-gay Proposition 8], and is a member of the Dallas City Council’s task forces on domestic violence and LGBT issues,” Burnett said.
“I’m honored to be one of the grand marshals of this year’s parade,” he continued, “but it is an understatement to say that C.D. is infinitely more deserving. It’s a shame that Dallas has never had an African-American grand marshal. C.D. is just one of the many examples of admirable African-American leaders in this community.”
Another of his role models, Burnett said is Tim Johnson, managing director of Kitchen Dog Theatre and a Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse board member. “Watching Tim juggle his many service commitments in the arts and recovery communities is nothing short of amazing,” Burnett said. “He’s passionate, creative and genuinely altruistic — all of which make him extremely inspiring to be around. I’m lucky to call him a friend.”
Other role models include John Schoggins, a microbiology profession at UT Southwestern “doing cutting-edge research on how the Zika virus infects brain cells,” who is also an out and proud gay man.”
There’s also Dallas County Assistant DA Craig McNiel, Burnett said, with whom he has worked over the last year to “achieve a more secure community in Oak Lawn.” Burnett said McNiel is a veteran and chair of the DA’s LGBT Task Force, and “I feel safer knowing he’s working on our side.”
He said he has also had a chance this year to get to know Dr. Oliver Blumer. “I don’t know anyone in this city who does more for the trans community than him. He’s a role model for standing up for what’s right, no matter what.”
Burnett describes himself as “just a normal guy — a dad, a husband.” He works in the health care industry, and he and his husband, Justin Carrier, and their sons, — 18-month-old Caleb and 8-month-old Cody — attend Lovers Lane Methodist Church.
But Burnett never forgets how his own life was shaped by an act of anti-gay violence, and because of that he helped found and volunteers with Survivors Offering Support, a group that started last fall in response to a rash of attacks on gay men in the Oak Lawn area.
It was that brutal anti-gay attack in October 2011, Burnett says now, that “put me on a different path in my life.
It shaped who I am now, in a sense. That attack was the catalyst for me moving to Dallas [in the fall of 2012], the catalyst for changing the way I live. I don’t drink now, and I don’t hang out at parties at 2 a.m. It’s not my fault that I was attacked then. But I am not the same guy I was in 2011.”
Burnett says he moved to Dallas a year after the attack “to kind of start my life over. I found a great set of friends here, a wonderful support system. And the gay community here has always been great to me. It really feels like home here in Dallas, especially in the Oak Lawn neighborhood.”
He met Carrier shortly after moving to Dallas. The two were married in 2014 and almost immediately began building their family. Burnett says he and his husband were thrilled to be in the delivery room when Caleb was born in Nevada in February 2015, and again in December that year when Cody was born in Frisco.
He and Carrier “moved to the suburbs” when their sons came along, but Burnett admits that he really misses living in Oak Lawn, the place he first called home in Dallas. So when the attacks began last fall, he says, he was immediately moved to do something to help the survivors.
“Being attacked myself really lit a fire in me to help other people,” he says. “There are a lot of issues where LGBT people aren’t safe, a lot of situations where LGBT people aren’t protected.”
Burnett said he also hopes his efforts to make the community safer will be part of a lasting legacy he will someday leave for his children.
“The legacy I hope to create for my boys is one of integrity, doing the right thing for the right reasons even when no one is watching,” Burnett said. “They’ll be looking to me as an example of how to be a good man for the rest of their lives, and if I can instill in them integrity, then I will count that as my life’s greatest success.
“My family — my sons and my husband — is my everything,” he said. “I pray that everyday when I go out and try to make a positive impact, their world is better because of it.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2016.