Joel Burns begs teens contemplating suicide: Give yourself a chance to see life get better

Fort Worth City Councilmember Joel Burns, right, and his husband, J.D. Angle

I have known Joel Burns for almost 10 years — several years longer than he has been on the Fort Worth City Council.

My wife and I met Joel and his husband, J.D. Angle, through mutual friends back when Joel and J.D. still lived in their beautifully restored home in the same East Fort Worth neighborhood where my wife and I and our children lived. I saw them then as the perfect couple: happy, handsome, healthy men with a beautiful home and great jobs. I knew they had great things ahead of them.

Then they moved to another beautifully restored older home in an historic neighborhood just south of downtown Fort Worth, and Joel ran for City Council. I was so happy when he was elected, because I believed that not only would Joel be a good representative for his constituents in District 9, but that he would also be a good representative for the LGBT community.

I think the fact that no one even stepped up to oppose Joel when he ran for re-election in 2009 shows that his constituents, overall, believe he is doing a good job on the City Council. But last night — Tuesday, Oct. 12 — during the weekly Fort Worth City Council meeting, Joel proved without a doubt that he also represents his LGBT community, and he proved why it is so important to have openly LGBT elected officials at all levels of government.

At each council meeting, council members are given a few minutes each at the start of the meeting to make announcements and to recognize people from their districts who have done something outstanding. Last night, Joel took his time to talk about the recent suicides of several LGBT youth — and to tell his own very personal and very powerful story.

After recounting the stories of several young men who have taken their own lives in recent weeks after being subjected to anti-gay bullying and harassment, Joel told his fellow councilmembers and those in the council chambers that he was about to tell them something he had never told anyone before — not even his parents or his husband. And then, struggling through his own tears, he told them of the day when he was a 9th grader at Crowley High School and a group of older teens accosted him and “roughed him up.”

“They said that I was a faggot, and that I should die and go to hell where I belonged. That erupted the fear that I had kept pushed down, that what I was beginning to feel on the inside must somehow be showing on the outside. Ashamed, humiliated and confused, I went home. There must be something very wrong with me, I thought, something I could never let my family or anyone else know,” he recalled.

Joel broke down then, and acknowledged that he couldn’t actually bring himself to read aloud the next couple of sentences he had written that described his own near suicide attempt. “I, don’t want my mother and father to have to bear the pain of having to hear … hear me say the …” He couldn’t finish the sentence.

When he regained his composure enough to continue, Joel said: “So I will just say, and I will skip ahead, I have never told this story to anyone before tonight. Not my family, not my husband, not anyone. But the number of suicides in recent days have upset me so much, they have just torn at my heart. And even though there may be some political repercussions for telling my story, the story is not just for the adults who might choose or not choose to support me. The story is for the young people who might be holding that gun tonight. 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 that might see this: Give yourself a chance to see just how much better life will get. And it will get better. You will get out of the household that doesn’t accept you. You will get out of that high school, and you never have to deal with those jerks again if you don’t want to. You will find and you will make new friends who will understand you. And life will get so, so, so much better.”

Joel then talked about all the happy memories that fill his life now, from the first time he ever saw his future husband, to the day he asked J.D. to spend his life with him, to winning his first election to just a few days ago when he sat with his father after his father came out of surgery, and his father told him how happy he was to have Joel there with him.

He said: To those who are feeling very alone tonight, please know that I understand how you feel, that things will get easier. Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself. It may not seem like it tonight, but they will. And the attitudes of society will change. Please, live long enough to be there to see it.”

Joel ended by encouraging anyone who needs help or resources to deal with the issue of LGBT teen suicide to contact TheTrevorProject.org or to call him directly at 817-392-8809. “And you can call me, and I will get you whatever resources you need,” he promised.

As Joel finished, his fellow councilmember and friend Kathleen Hicks led the rest of the council and those in the council chambers in a standing ovation for Joel and his courage. I think he deserves a standing ovation from all of us, as well. Because last night, Joel Burns did us all proud, and maybe — just maybe — he helped save someone’s life.

Watch video of Joel’s speech to the council below:

—  admin

Vigils planned in wake of 4 gay-bullying suicides

Asher Brown

Vigils are reportedly being planned around the country for the weekend of Oct. 9-10 to honor and remember the four youth who’ve recently committed suicide in response to anti-gay bullying and harassment. Those youth are Asher Brown, 13, of Houston; Seth Walsh, 13, of Tehachapi, Calif.; Billy Lucas, 15, of Greensburg, Ind.; and Tyler Clementi of New Jersey.

A conference call is planned for Thursday night, Sept. 30 to coordinate the vigils. We’ll have more info as soon as it becomes available.

—  John Wright

Come out, if not for yourself, for youth

Living in the closet may be good for your pocketbook. But it can be hell on your mental state, the lives of those around you and the future of the LGBT youth who are watching you for clues on how to live

Ken Mehlman
Ken Mehlman

Seems like we have been hearing a lot about people coming out lately. The most notable so far was Ken Mehlman, former chairman of the Republican Party. His announcement was not very surprising since there had been rumors floating since he stepped down from his job with the GOP. But it did cause a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth on both sides of the political aisle.

The folks on the left were outraged that he sought forgiveness, and the folks on the right were outraged … in general.

What his media event makes clear is the value and hazards of being “out.”

For Mehlman, his closet existence gave him free reign to work with homophobic bigots with impunity. He could walk the halls of power in the GOP, aiding his party and candidates in their systematic oppression of LGBT Americans and still get to go home and have sex with men.

The down side of that is now that he has come out, he has absolutely no “street cred” in the LGBT political scene and even less with the right wing.

That brings me to the whole process of coming out.

For me, it happened at least three times. First when I was 18, and having sex with a couple of high school friends. I finally got the nerve to tell my family and pretty much got a

“That’s nice,” and a pat on the head.

My mother was going through a lot at that period in her life so she just might not have understood what I was telling her.

The second time I came out was with my girlfriend. That’s right, girlfriend.

She and I had been living together for a while and I told her that I really liked having sex with men. Hey, it was 1971! She didn’t like that kind of competition. So I moved out, but in true ’70s fashion, we remained friends.

Shortly after, I came out again to my mother — and this time it took. She was a bit upset that she would not have grandchildren, but being the good Jewish mother, she promptly started trying to hook me up with her gay friends. Not a pleasant experience!

From that point on, I was never really in the closet again. The good thing about that is I rarely had to worry about keeping stories straight (pardon the pun) and didn’t need a beard. I could participate in political activism and actually work to achieve my own freedom and equality.

Moreover, contrary to common wisdom at the time, being out never hurt my career; I managed to do that independent of my sexuality.

When I see stories like Mr. Mehlman’s, I have a certain amount of sympathy. I understand how scary life outside the closet can be, yet I also know the insidious damage that being closeted can cause.

Had I stayed in my closet any longer, I might have gotten married and had children. Coming out after starting a family really hurts everyone; I know this from the experience of friends.

Staying in the closet may seem like a good career move. But aside from money, how soul crushing is it to have to hide who you are every day with your peers? It can’t be easy, and because of that I find it hard to be completely unsympathetic to Mehlman’s plight.

But I do understand why he is not being welcomed with open arms by the LGBT community.

If anything, his story should serve as an example of how not to come out of the closet. Waiting so late in your career and life makes it more difficult. What’s worse, it sets a bad example for young people who might look up to you.

What? Bad example? I sound like my mother, and occasionally that is a good thing.

Whether we know it or not, every one of us is constantly influencing the younger people around us. When we act in a manner that is patently duplicitous and self-serving, they notice.

It sends a message that it’s OK to lie and cheat in pursuit of your career or whatever other goal you have in mind.

That means there will be a whole generation of LGBT Americans who decide the closet is OK so long as you profit from it.

Whether we like it or not, all of us in the LGBT community have kids. They might not be biological family, but when they come into the community they look for role models — and we are what they see.

You don’t have to be rich or connected or politically astute or in a position of authority; they will find you. They watch how people who are already out manage their lives, and they model their own behavior on that example.

If that makes you nervous, that’s a good thing. Being conscious of how we live our lives can often make us examine our choices and our behavior. We don’t all have to be paragons of correctness and we don’t have to be in-your-face activists. We just need to be authentic in our loves and that means being who we are. It means being out.

So if you are out already, I salute you. Coming out is scary, difficult, joyous and liberating. It is a rite of passage to wholeness.

If you are struggling with the closet door, there are plenty of folks who can help you. Your actions, your example, might just save someone from the despair of living a lie.
Set an example for someone. Let them know it’s OK to be LGBT — or whoever they are. If you don’t do it for yourself, at least do it for our kids.


Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a member of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas. His blog is at http://dungeondiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Addressing the problem of school bullying

Bullying in schools is a problem everywhere. And the problem is growing.

Last week, Massachusetts passed a new anti-bullying law.

NewsWest9This week, the NBC Midland affiliate ran a decent story on bullying, but while most bullying targets LGBT students, the Channel 9 story only obliquely referred to them.

“Over time, the sexually charged rumors, name-calling and even vandalism became overwhelming for Kaitlin.”

For the full video, go here.

While all bullying should be addressed, studies show laws that cover bullying in a general way are often ignored by school staff when LGBT youth are victims. Laws need to specifically cover LGBT youth for them to be protected.

In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports that groups may challenge the new anti-bullying law based on free speech. Apparently, some feel after teaching their children to hate, the kids have a right to practice what they’ve learned.

Anti-bullying legislation has been introduced in the Texas Legislature each session since the early 1990s and in recent years has gotten out of committee, but has not passed. If a current anti-bullying bill authored by Rep. Mark Strama passes in 2011, it would be the first major pro-LGBT legislation to become law in Texas since the hate crimes statute of 2001.продвижение сайта в поисковых системах цены

—  David Taffet

Gay Houston teen beaten with metal pipe after principals, bus driver ignore his pleas for help

Another day, another horrifying report of violence against a gay teenager.

Jayron Martin, a 16-year-old high school freshman from Houston, tells KHOU-TV that he was chased down after school and beaten with a metal pipe last week while eight classmates stood around and watched.

“All they kept saying was, ‘We going to get you. We going to fight you,’ and all that and so when they started coming after me they were like, ‘You’re not going to be gay anymore.’ They just kept hitting me,” Jayron said.

The beating finally ended when a neighbor pointed a shotgun at the attackers and cocked it. Martin is lucky; he escaped with only a concussion and cuts and bruises on his arms and hands. But the worst part of this story is that Martin had warned two principals and his bus driver that the attack was going to happen, and they apparently did nothing to stop it. One of Martin’s attackers, another 16-year-old, has been arrested and charged with aggravated assault. Martin’s bus driver has been placed on administrative leave, and the school district is investigating. Meanwhile, Martin’s mother said she wants to move out of the neighborhood and the school district. She’s also retained an attorney and is considering a civil lawsuit.

“When the child does what they’re supposed to do and the adult doesn’t, what are you supposed to say then?  How do you make him feel comfortable? How do you give him back that sense of security,” Lakenya Martin said.

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—  John Wright