Report shows LGB people face additional health risks, transgender issues require another report

health-rainbow2_0A report released recently by the Boston-based Fenway Institute has found important health-related risks within the LGB community that are not well-documented or well-known and not addressed by prevention and treatment programs.

Many studies have shown that gay men have a higher risk of HIV infection and that LGBT youth are at higher risk of being bullied and considering suicide. But the new Fenway policy brief  shows that the LGB community has a higher rate of tobacco use than the general public, that lesbians have an increased risk of being overweight and that LGB elders have an increased risk of disability.

The Fenway report is based on data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through an annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Surveys (BRFSS) in all 50 states, reaching 506,000 people. CDC provides the core questionnaire for each state to administer, asking questions about such health-related matters as diet, physical activity, smoking, immunization and sleep.

CDC does not include a question about a survey participant’s sexual orientation on the core questionnaire or on a list of additional optional questions states can add. Only 27 states have, on their own initiative, begun asking questions about sexual orientation and/or same-sex sexual behavior, according to the Fenway report.

Because sexual orientation data is not collected in all 50 states, says the Fenway report, “it is impossible to compare their health behaviors to those of other groups.”

“Without this information, states may miss the opportunity to develop programs, policies and services to address local health disparities.”

The Fenway report urges all states “to include, at a minimum, a sexual identity measure, and, whenever possible, to also include a sexual behavior measure.” Due to the “nuances and complexity of measuring gender identity, and the unique and understudied health disparities transgender people face,” said the Fenway report, “a comprehensive assessment of these issues” requires another report.

Some of the specific findings of Fenway’s analysis of the data collected by the 27 states that do ask questions about sexual identity and/or same-sex sexual behavior include:

  • Lesbians and bisexual women are less likely than heterosexual women to obtain mammograms and Pap tests
  • Gay men have higher rates of alcohol and drug use
  • LGB people have higher rates of tobacco use and are more likely to lack health insurance
  • LGB older adults have increased risk of disability, excessive drinking and smoking
  • 18 percent of doctors in California are “sometimes” or “often” uncomfortable treating gay patients
  • 9.4 percent of men who identified themselves as “straight” in New York City had sex with another man during the past year.
  • 76 percent of self-identified lesbian sexually active adolescents reported having had sex with a male

Of the 27 states which have asked people about their sexual orientation, some have asked the question in only one year; some every year. The 27 states include: Alaska, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.

The report urges all 50 states to begin asking about sexual orientation.

“Collecting sexual orientation data at the state level,” says the report, “can propel the federal initiative forward and enhance states’ ability to document and work toward eliminating health disparities experienced by their own populations.”

LISA KEEN  |  Keen News Service

—  Steve Ramos

Transgender ‘Bully’ teen visits the White House for National Day of Silence

DRIVEN TO THE BRINK Kelby Johnson attempted suicide three times before her parents, with nowhere else to turn, contacted Ellen DeGeneres, who in turn put them in touch with Director Lee Hirsch. (Courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

DRIVEN TO THE BRINK Kelby Johnson attempted suicide three times before her parents, with nowhere else to turn, contacted Ellen DeGeneres, who in turn put them in touch with Director Lee Hirsch. (Courtesy of The Weinstein Company)

Kelby Johnson, the transgender teen portrayed in the film Bully, will attend a showing of the film at the White House on Friday for National Day of Silence, according to an email sent by GLSEN.

Last week, Dallas Voice ran a story about the film and was the first LGBT media outlet to interview Johnson as a transgender teen. In the film, Johnson is referred to as lesbian and came out as transgender after the production wrapped.

Johnson and his father will be in D.C. today and tomorrow advocating for federal safe schools protections.

GLSEN has arranged meetings for the Johnsons with their Oklahoma representatives, with Rep. Mike Honda who recently started the anti-bullying caucus, with Rep. Linda Sanchez who is the lead sponsor for the Safe Schools Improvement Act and with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

This summer, Kelby will become a GLSEN intern in the D.C. office.

After the jump are additional details of the Johnsons’ D.C. visit:

—  David Taffet

LGBT teen suicides continue — and so does harassment of Asher Brown’s parents

The It Gets Better Project project has helped a number of teens who are bullied in schools and churches. Legislation to stop bullying has passed in a number of states including Texas.

Amy and David Truong at Texas Capitol

But the bullying continues and so does teen suicide. Here are four gay teens who took their own lives in January. Others may have gone unreported as LGBT-related.

• Jan. 1 — Jeffrey Fehr, 18, hanged himself at his family’s home in Granite Bay, Calif.

• Jan. 11 — Eric James Borges, 19, an intern at The Trevor Project, committed suicide after being bullied, tormented and terrorized for most of his life. His religious-extremist parents did not to attend his memorial.

• Jan. 20 — Phillip Parker, 14, of Gorndonsville, Tenn. committed suicide. His parents said he was constantly bullied because he was gay.

• Jan. 29 — Rafael Morelos, 14, of Wenatchee, Wash., who was openly gay, hanged himself after constant bullying.

But the bullying doesn’t stop there. Dallas Voice reported in March 2011 that Asher Brown’s parents, Amy and David Truong, were being harassed for speaking out against the Cy-Fair Independent School District and pushing for anti-bullying legislation.

Asher was one of the teen’s whose suicide brought national attention to the issue. His parents lobbied Texas legislators and testified before the Senate Education Committee about the bullying Asher endured.

Fox News in Houston reports that the Truongs continue to be the victims of bullying and vandalism at their house. Watch the Fox video here.

—  David Taffet

‘They got ugly in their bones’

Despite another gay teen suicide, right-wingers in Tennessee want to give kids a license to bully LGBT youth under guise of religious liberty

Phillip-Parker-Age-14

BULLIED TO DEATH | Phillip Parker, 14, who took his own life last week due to anti-gay bullying, was the second Tennessee teen to do so in as many months.

Habaerman.Hardy.NEW
Hardy Haberman  |  Flagging Left

 

My family tree’s roots spread in two directions. My father’s side of the tree spreads toward Eastern Europe and my mother’s side into the hills of Tennessee.

I mention this because having those Tennessee roots has given me a fondness for that state and its beautiful scenery and its people — most of them. Unfortunately, it also contains some of the ugliest people I’ve ever met. Not physically ugly, but deeper. As my hillbilly grandfather would say, “They got ugly in their bones.”

The people I am talking about are the strange citizens of the Volunteer State who feel it is their God-given right to verbally and physically abuse anyone they feel is worthy of their scorn. They are bullies, plain and simple, and they are doing it under the guise of religion.

As the Tennessee Legislature takes up a bill (HB 1153) to protect bullying as religious expression, comes the news of yet another teen suicide in the state. Phillip Parker, 14, of Gordonsville is the latest in a series of suicides directly related to being mercilessly bullied for being gay.

You would think the good lawmakers of Tennessee would have some sympathy for these poor children, but it seems more than one state representative sees it differently. Republican John Ragan noted the statistics showing higher suicide rates among LGBT youth and said that therefore, it had “more to do with his own proclivities and behavior than anything to do with schoolmate bullies….”
Blame the victim!

To be fair, some in the state are calling for a stop to the fatal bullying.  There is an opposing law (SB 1621) also being considered that is designed to eliminate bullying and provide “a safe and civil environment … for students to learn and achieve high academic standards.”

This law has powerful adversaries like the Family Action Council of Tennessee. This group, a branch of Focus on the Family, are the same folks who last spring tried to push through a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. These same kind folks also overturned a local ordinance in Nashville that protected LGBT workers from discrimination.

So what the heck is it with Tennessee? Well, they are not alone. Already another “license to bully” bill is moving through the Michigan Legislature. And of course here in Texas there are a whole bunch of ugly people who are incensed that we have moved a series of anti-bullying laws through the Legislature. Of course one of those groups is the Plano-based Liberty Institute, an affiliate of Focus on the Family. They are already screeching about free speech and how these laws impinge on their freedom of religion.

So my question is this. How the heck does bullying a teenager so mercilessly that he takes his own life rather than face the continued abuse constitute “religious expression”? The right wing talks about the slippery slope of offering protections to LGBT youth as “special rights,” but I seriously doubt if the shoe were on the other foot they would see it that way.

Imagine if my religion called for me to make animal sacrifices in the public square. Imagine if my religion said I should close all tattoo shops and barber shops. Imagine if my religion said the bank had to forgive all debts every 49 years. After all, those are all in the Bible along with a whole lot of other things that would seem even stranger.

No, the right wing is not worried about “special rights.” They are specifically concerned with denying rights to LGBT people. We have become the bogeymen for a generation of far-right fundamentalists who can’t seem to find anyone else to blame for their problems. These people must have someone to blame because of their warped view of religion and the “will of God.” When you try to take the Bible literally, you run into all kinds of problems, not the least of which is the need to find scapegoats. After all, why else would their lives be so difficult if it weren’t for someone standing in the way of getting their just rewards from God?

I have noted the anger of the religious right previously, and the bullying that manifests itself in our schools and playground is just the next generation of that anger acting out. Though I started by focusing on Tennessee, I assure you that the problem is everywhere and it won’t be stopped easily.

I am pretty sure nobody can change the warped attitudes some of these people have toward LGBT folk, but I do know that we can provide legal protections to assure that under the law, everyone has equal rights. If the right believes that their freedom of speech extends to bullying and abuse, then it’s time for some serious education in what it means to have a civil society. There is enough ugliness in the world without trying to create more.

Hardy Haberman is a longtime local LGBT activist and a board member of the Woodhull Freedom Alliance. His blog is at DungeonDiary.blogspot.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Stonewall Archives to honor Joel Burns

Joel Burns

Officials with the Stonewall National Museum and Archives announced today that they will be presenting Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns with the Stonewall Spirit of Pride Award at the museum’s Our Stars event Nov. 11 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Burns is being honored for his efforts as part of the It Gets Better campaign to fight bullying and LGBT teen suicide, which began in October last year when he delivered a tearful speech during a council meeting about his own experiences as a bullied teen and the day he contemplated suicide.

Video of Burns’ speech went viral on YouTube, receiving more than 2.6 million views.

Burns will also be speaking Saturday at the annual award program for LEAGUE, the LGBT employee group at AT&T, and on Sunday, Sept. 18, he will be honorary grand marshal in the annual Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade — a fitting choice since the theme for this year’s parade is “It Only Gets Better.”

The Stonewall museum and archives will also be honoring pioneering lesbian politician Elaine Noble at the Our Stars event, presenting her with the Heritage of Pride Award. Noble made history in 1975 as the first openly gay person in the U.S. to be elected to a state legislature.

Previous winners of the Heritage of Pride Award include legendary LGBT activist Barbara Gittings and openly gay U.S. Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. Burns is the first person to receive the Spirit of Pride Award.

—  admin

Senate OKs 2 Equality Texas-backed bills targeting bullying, suicide in same day

Rep. Garnet Coleman

When was the last time the Senate passed two bills backed by Equality Texas in one day? Probably never.

Earlier we told you that the Senate voted unanimously this afternoon to approve HB 1942, an anti-bullying bill by Rep. Diane Howard, R-Arlington, that is Equality Texas’ top priority in this year’s session.

Tonight, the Senate voted 28-3 to pass a suicide prevention bill by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston.This is the bill that was originally called Asher’s Law in honor of Asher Brown, the 13-year gay youth from the Houston area who took his own life last year in response to bullying at school.

Neither bill in its final form contains specific references or protections for LGBT youth. But the fact is that if they did, they wouldn’t have had any chance of passing the Republican-dominated Legislature.

Daniel Williams at Legislative Queery reports on Coleman’s bill:

HB 1386, the teen suicide prevention bill by Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) has passed the Texas Senate on a 28 to 3 vote. The bill instructs the Texas Department of State Health Services to develop resources designed to prevent teen suicide, including mental health counseling, crisis prevention tools and suicide prevention eduction. Schools would then have the option of implementing those programs, but would not be required to do so.

The Senate Education Committee made some substantial changes to the bill the House sent over, most notably adding provisions that prohibit a child from seeking counseling without their parent’s knowledge. For queer teens who may not be out to their parents this is a particularly cruel change that may prevent some kids who need help from seeking it. Since the Senate version of the bill is different than the House version the House must concur with the changes. If they do not a “conference committee” of 5 House members (appointed by the Speaker of the House) and 5 Senators (appointed by the Lieutenant Governor) will be formed to to work out a comprimise between the two versions.

When he laid out the bill in the Senate Rodney Ellis (D-Houston), the bill’s Senate sponsor, made what he called a “suicide pact” with the rest of the Senate to oppose any attempt by the conference committee to allow students to receive anonymous counseling. By tradition the Senate sponsor of House bills is one of the chairs of the conference committee so Ellis will be in a position to keep his pact.

Considering Ellis’ commitment (however much his choice of words may be in poor taste) and the ticking clock of a session that has less than a week left in it Coleman may choose to simply concur with the changes the Senate made and send the bill to the Governor’s desk for signing.

—  John Wright

In midst of gay teen suicide crisis, Houston’s Kinkaid School removes Safe Space stickers

Texas Monthly‘s March issue features an interesting piece (already available online to subscribers) about the ideological battle that’s gripped Houston’s prestigious Kinkaid School since a parent — who also happened to be one of the highest-paid bankers on Wall Street — wrote an e-mail that went viral in 2009 complaining that the school had become too liberal.

Texas Monthly‘s John Spong concludes that in the aftermath of the e-mail, conservatives appear to have won the day at George W. Bush’s alma mater: At least three openly gay Kinkaid staffers have resigned their posts, sexual orientation is excluded from a new diversity policy at the school, and GLSEN Safe Space stickers were removed from classrooms and offices:

With gay suicides and bullying in national headlines, that move struck many as beyond tone-deaf. For them, the school’s reasoning—that the stickers implied that one group was more protected than others—showed greater concern for some people’s political views than for the welfare of vulnerable students. The same objection was raised when the board clarified its edict on “student exposure to issues relating to sexual orientation.” Faculty had pointed out that kids trying to understand their sexual identity often reach out to them; a gay Kinkaid alum I talked to credited one such teacher with saving his life. Could that conversation now get a teacher fired? The board stressed that the proper place for these sorts of conversations was at home or in a counselor’s office, adding that teachers were not to initiate those discussions. As one current faculty member put it, “We’re allowed to have those conversations; we’re just not allowed to tell the kids we’re allowed to have those conversations. That’s the thing that’s confusing.”

—  John Wright

LGBT Person of the Year: Joel Burns

Fort Worth’s gay City Councilman put an ‘everyman’ face on the issue of bullying and teen suicide — and the world took notice

Arnold Wayne Jones  |  jones@dallasvoice.com

Joel-Burns-1
A TEXAS STAR | Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns speaks about the importance of anti-bullying legislation during a press conference Dec. 13, in Austin calling for passage of such a measure during the upcoming session of the Texas Legislature. Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, said Burns’ Oct. 12 speech on his personal experiences being bullied put a face on the issue to which everyday people can relate. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Joel Burns had enjoyed his share of viral videos, from Susan Boyle to pets who appear to play piano. But he never suspected he’d become one. But last October, that’s exactly what happened. The Fort Worth councilman, who is openly gay, was moved by a string of teen suicides across the nation, many as a result of anti-gay bullying.

But one in particular hit home: The death of Keith Harrington who, after attending a Norman, Okla., city council meeting, took his own life in despair.

“I wrote it all that day,” Burns says of the speech he delivered on the evening of Oct. 12. “Tuesday at lunch I wrote it and read the first draft of it [live at the council meeting]. Had I had any inkling that this would go the way it did I would have tightened it up. But it has a rawness to it.”

Indeed it does, as Burns recounts, for 12 fascinating minutes, a never-before-discussed incident in his youth where he was bullied.

It brought Burns to tears; it brought everyone watching at City Hall that night to their feet in applause.
And though it happened at the same time as the “It Gets Better” campaign was expanding, that was not Burns’ intent at all.

“No, it was not one of those,” Burns said last week from his council office. “I hadn’t seen any of them but had read Dan Savage was doing something like that. My comments were first and foremost made at City Council; that they got uploaded to YouTube was secondary.

“I knew that what I was saying was being recorded and it might be used in the future — maybe at a high school in the district I represent — but not what it became.”

And what it became, simply, was a sensation: 2.5 million views on the main YouTube posting alone, with thousands upon thousands more in follow-up posts, comments and links by others … not to mention excerpts broadcast nationally for weeks on MSNBC, The Today Show, Ellen DeGeneres, CNN and hosts of other media outlets.

Everyman

For a while this fall, you almost couldn’t escape the name and face of Joel Burns — even if you weren’t gay or from North Texas.

And his was a face that people could relate to, a fact that gave his message even more weight with many.

State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth — who represented District 9, which Burns now represents, before stepping down at the start of 2008 to run for the Senate — called Burns “a uniquely capable public servant” to whom people can relate easily.

Joel-Burns-2
Joel Burns, right, and his husband, J.D. Angle

“I would say that he left his ego at the door when he entered public office, but he never brought it with him at all, actually,” Davis said of Burns. “He is down to earth, genuine and sincere about everything he does. It is rare that he enters a room, a restaurant, a neighborhood gathering, where he is not received by warm hugs.”

She continued, “The people that he represents understand that he cares about them, and they care about him in return. He has an actual ‘relationship’ with the people that he represents, which is, unfortunately, rare in political leaders. Though his warmth and humor endear him to people, he is loved more because he is a leader who is not afraid to stand strong for the issues he cares about.”

Burns’ everyman appeal resonates beyond the boundaries of District 9, and that’s what gave his speech such impact around the country, said Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas.

“The thing about [Burns’ speech] is that he is a very likeable person,” Coleman said. “The thing that made it resonate with people so strongly is that he is an everyday person doing a very public job.

“There are a lot of celebrities who have talked about bullying and suicide. But this was someone from a small town in Texas who was talking about his personal experiences, talking to his colleagues about what he had been through. There was genuine feeling to it.”

Burns’ speech that night during the council meeting was not something planned in advance and worked on by speechwriters or aides. The councilman decided only hours before to speak out, and scribbled his remarks down during his lunch hour.

And it was that sense of immediacy and personal conviction that made it stand out, Coleman said.

“His speech was very raw. It was very honest. That’s an interesting thing to see from a public figure,” Coleman said. “And the timing was perfect. He tied it to something that was very personal, and he tied it to something that was very ‘right now;’ he tied it to the death of the young man who committed suicide after hearing so much hate at a city council meeting [in Oklahoma]. All those elements made it very, very real for a lot of people.”

The LGBT community could have hardly chosen a better spokesman if it had tried. Smart, handsome, articulate and sincere with a soft but authoritative Texas voice, Burns exudes gay Pride in its most prosaic incarnation.

Where mainstream media often portrays gay culture in stereotypes, Burns showed a face that Middle America may not have seen before. And that presence as a role model is what made him the effortless choice as Dallas Voice’s local LGBT Person of the Year.

While Burns himself is local, the reach of his message proved to be national, even international. But as he did it, Burns had little idea what it would become.

“I got up the very next morning and went on with my life the way I normally would,” Burns said. “I had two back-to-back appointments starting at 8 a.m., then I came home. J.D. [Angle, Burns’ husband] was sitting in the bed when I came back from speaking to the gay-straight alliance at UT. He said, ‘You know you’ve got 5,000 people who have viewed this since it was posted at 5 a.m.’

“Before I left at noon, I got 1,000 Facebook ‘friend’ requests. I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God — how did that happen?’”

The story of how the video made it to YouTube is a strange one. All of Fort Worth’s council meetings are recorded and streamed live on the Internet. Chris Hawes, the WFAA reporter covering Fort Worth city hall, had already posted her story for the day but continued to watch the stream. When she saw Burns’ confessional recollection of childhood bullying, she dropped the story she’d already filed and went live. But Burns was not available.

“We had another five hours worth of council meeting that night,” Burns said. “I was busy with zoning cases.”

Burns learned of the report and stepped out of the meeting long enough to warn his parents that a story about bullying and teenage suicide would be about him. “I said, ‘There’s some content that comes from a very personal standpoint.’

“I knew when it aired — right after, both my phones blew up. Todd Camp [ironically, Dallas Voice’s first LGBT Person of the Year last year] was texting me saying ‘What are you gonna do with this? Will you put on YouTube?’ I said, ‘Yes eventually.’ He said, ‘No, you need to do it now. I will come up to City Hall and do it for you if you’ll just get a copy to your council aide.’”

Camp and Kyle Trentham finally got it uploaded at 5 a.m., Wed., Oct. 13. Before the day was over, Burns had spoken to CNN, CBS and scores of other outlets. He was soon on a flight to New York City for appearances on The Today Show and other programs.

Then Ellen called.

The whole experience ended up being “kinda strange,” he said. “Walking down the street in Portland, Ore., someone said, ‘Hey, are you the dude that cried?’ On the street in New York City [a day after the story broke], people would stop me and ask if I was from Texas.”

There have been other surreal moments. At the beginning, Burns was surviving on few hours’ sleep, traveling constantly and doing interview after interview.

“Honestly, during the interviews on Today and Ellen there was such a crush of activity, I was probably not as present for that experience as I should have been,” he said. While waiting in the wings of DeGeneres’ show, “I thought, ‘Holy crap! I am about to meet Ellen! I hope I’m able to speak English.’”

But far beyond the celebrity it brought him was the gratification of affecting so many lives in concrete ways.

“The experience of talking to the kids and various people who have e-mailed me is the best part,” Burns said. “A couple weeks ago, I got an envelope that said nothing but ‘Joel Burns, Fort Worth, Texas’ — no postmark or return address. Inside was a torn up piece of paper and a note that said, ‘This is the remains of the letter I left for my roommate to find with my body. After seeing your video, I burned all but this piece. You saved my life.’”

“All of the e-mails were uniformly positive. My dad was worried — he said, ‘You need to get a security system and lock your doors,’ but honestly, that hasn’t happened. Walking on the set of Today is slightly unnerving, but no one’s threatened me or scared me. It’s kind of hard to be for bullying and teenaged suicide.”

Hard, but not impossible, as KLIF shock jock Chris Krok proved. He assailed Burns for wasting councilmembers’ time with his story and “lying” by referring to Angle as his “husband.”

Krok also affected a lisp mocking Burns’ tearful monologue. Burns says, so far as he can tell, Krok was the only person to actively attack him for the speech.

“He was trying to capitalize on it, to get attention,” Burns said dismissively. “He was doing what he could to draw attention. But he’s the only one I’m aware of. There were supposed to be protests at City Hall but that never materialized.”

Burns opened his speech that night by acknowledging that he could be torpedoing his future in politics. But he felt that bringing attention to the issue of bullying and teen suicide and saving maybe even one life was worth it.

And the risk he was taking didn’t go unnoticed.

Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, speaking after Burns at that Oct. 12 council meeting, said it plainly:

“I have witnessed a lot of things over my 30 years of public service … but I have never seen anything as courageous as what I saw tonight,” Moncrief said to Burns. “Obviously, you spoke from the heart and you touched every heart in this room. No matter how big and tough you are, that touched you, in some shape, form or fashion.”

While some critics, like Krok, said the council meeting wasn’t an appropriate forum for Burns’ remarks, Moncrief, in his response that night, insisted otherwise.

“It is something that needs to be addressed,” the mayor said. “Young people, especially, are entitled to a chance — a chance to enjoy a childhood, a chance to enjoy looking forward to the next challenges in their life. It is only through people like yourself, who will speak out from experience — not from reading a book, not from watching a movie — from experience, [that change will happen. Experience] is always the best teacher. It teaches those lessons way down deep.

“And it takes a special courage to reach down deep to pull those things out and express them. I thank you for what you said and I thank you for how you said it,” Moncrief told Burns.

And people obviously have taken note of that courage and responded to help create the change Burn called for. In fact, earlier this month, Davis prefiled a bill in the Texas House  of Representatives to create a comprehensive statewide approach to bullying in public schools. She credited Burns’ speech with being the impetus.

“I am proud to have filed a bill in the Texas Legislature that attempts to have a positive impact on this issue, and I am particularly proud to do this in response to Joel’s personal story and the awareness he raised in all of us regarding teen suicides that occur as a result of bullying,” Davis said.

And Coleman said Equality Texas is proud to be able to work with Burns to get Davis’ legislation passed. In fact, Equality Texas invited Burns to go to Austin on Dec. 13 to speak at the press conference during which the organization launched its efforts to pass the anti-bullying bill.

“As the statewide organization, having someone who can put a face on this very serious issue was important for us, and we feel it was very appropriate to have [Burns] at the press conference. But we didn’t invite him to participate as a councilman from Fort Worth. We invited as Joel Burns to participate as a Texan who himself experienced bullying when he was growing up,”Coleman said.

While many people have focused on the changes Burns’ speech has made in others’ lives, Burns acknowledged that what happened that night and since has changed his life, as well.

“I am a little more mindful of some things that others would perceive as bigger picture stuff. Instead of getting hunkered down in resolving our pension crisis or fixing our budget for next year, it kind of pulls you up a little bit out of the [minutiae] of everyday life.

“You hear these stories and it fills me with, I don’t know what to call it, contentment? It has instilled a sense of who I am at 41 that was not present to prior to the 12th of October. It makes me much less afraid. Whatever happens, happens. If I don’t get re-elected [in May], I know now I’ve had an amazing life — a lot better than many others out there.”

And his video has made life a lot better for countless others, too.

Senior Editor Tammye Nash contributed to this report.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition December 24, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Marketing pitch: If you don’t fly somewhere and get married, more gay kids will commit suicide

Some may recall that in the wake of 9/11, the marketing folks seemed to be pushing the message that everyone in America should go out and buy stuff because, otherwise, “the terrorists win.”

We were reminded of this Wednesday evening when we received a press release from a company that provides “full-service destination weddings.” The company, which has offices in Dallas, announced in the press release that it’s expanding its focus to include the LGBT community.

And that’s great, but we were a little turned off by this quote in the press release from one of the company’s executives:

“… We support the idea that marriage creates stable, committed unions. We believe that everyone must be supported in building stable, empowering, and respectful relationships. In light of the recent trends of gay teen suicide and bullying happening in the U.S., where most of our clients reside, it is our obligation to demonstrate that happy, committed relationships do exist and are possible for everyone. By providing a flawless destination wedding experience to our couples, we can do just that. … ”

—  John Wright

National spotlight focuses on Burns

As Fort Worth councilman’s staff, volunteers continue to field e-mails, calls from bullied teens seeking help, Dallasites stage a 2nd vigil to remember teen suicide victims


DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

PROUD COUPLE  |  Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)
PROUD COUPLE | Fort Worth City Councilman Joel Burns, right, and his partner, J.D. Angle, march with the city’s contingent in the Tarrant County Pride Parade earlier this month. Burns has garnered national attention with the “It Gets Better” speech he delivered during the Oct. 12 Fort Worth City Council meeting. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Joel Burns has been a familiar name and face in North Texas since 2007 when he was first elected to the Fort Worth City Council, becoming Cowtown’s first openly gay council member.

But in the last two weeks, thousands have learned Burns’ name and are hailing him as a hero of the LGBT community and the battle against bullying and teen suicide.

Fort Worth City Council’s Oct. 12 meeting started out as usual. But then Burns took his turn during that part of the meeting in which councilmembers routinely offer recognition to individuals and events in their own districts. But this time, Burns took on a national topic.

Struggling to choke back tears until finally giving up and letting the tears run down his face, Burns talked about several teenagers who were LGBT, or at least perceived to be LGBT, who had recently taken their own lives after enduring months, sometimes years, of anti-gay bullying and harassment.

And then the councilman told his own story, how he had himself been bullied as a teen and had contemplated suicide.

By the time he finished, everyone in the Council Chamber had risen to their feet to salute him with applause.

But it didn’t stop there. Burns posted the official  Fort Worth City Council video on YouTube as part of Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” campaign to encourage and reassure LGBT teens — and suddenly, Burns was an Internet sensation.

Newspapers around the world posted the video on their websites and it went viral on YouTube. Before he knew it, Burns was being asked to be on, first local and then national and international news programs, including The Today Show with Matt Lauer. On Wednesday, Oct. 20, Burns was a guest on Ellen DeGeneres’ television talk show.

During an appearance on Ellen, Burns said that the best part of the last two weeks has been the number of teens from around the world who have e-mailed him and contacted him on Facebook.

“The countless number of kids from around the world … who said, ‘I was in a really, really bad place and I was making plans to take my own life,’” he said. “The fact that they have reconsidered — that makes it worth me crying at City Council, the heartache for my mom and dad, worth every bit of all that because they’re still alive.”

While Burns has been traveling coast-to-coast speaking out against bullying on all of the network morning shows in New York, on cable news and on Ellen in Los Angeles, a team of volunteers has been sorting through thousands of messages pouring into his e-mail inbox at Fort Worth City Hall.

By Monday, Oct. 18, more than 20,000 e-mails had arrived after the video had been streamed 1.3 million times. On Thursday, Oct. 21, the number of YouTube hits passed 2 million, and the e-mail and Facebook messages continue to pour in.

The YouTube page has logged more than 27,000 comments.

Actually reaching Burns or his office this week has been almost impossible. His office phone switches to directly to voice mail.

The Fort Worth City Hall media office said they would pass a message to his office to contact Dallas Voice. But spokesman Bill Begley said he’d walk a message down to Burns’ office himself.

Will Trevino in Councilmember Kathleen Hicks’ office said that former staff and volunteers in Burns’ office had been working overtime trying to keep up with the flood of messages.

Remembering the lost ones
Wednesday was Spirit Day, designated to remember young people who have committed suicide as a result of bullying. Many wore purple to show solidarity for efforts to stop the bullying based on actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton joined the call for an end to bullying by releasing an “It Gets Better” video earlier this week and wearing purple on Spirit Day.

More than 200 people gathered in the Caven parking lot off Cedar Springs Road and held a candlelight vigil marching to the Legacy of Love monument at Oak Lawn Avenue.

Marchers carried purple signs that read “Hope” and “It Gets Better.”

At the monument, organizer Ivan Watson read the names of recent suicide victims and a moment of silence was observed for each one.

Watson said he was inspired to organize the vigil after hearing about Asher Brown, the recent Houston suicide victim.

Organizer Steve Weir of DallasGay-Agenda.com billed the event as a peace march and vigil in memory of those who died and a stand against bullying D/FW area. He said that school policies must change to make schools safe for LGBT youth.

Rafael McDonnell from Resource Center Dallas said he searched bullying policies of school districts across the state and found none that specifically addresses bullying based on sexual orientation. Austin’s comes closest, he said.

McDonnell also said that Philadelphia’s school system passed a comprehensive anti-bullying policy that specifically addresses sexual orientation and sexual identity.

“It’s in Lew Blackburn’s hands,” McDonnell said.

Blackburn is the DISD trustee who has shown the most interest in crafting a policy that will protect LGBT students and those perceived to be.

The “It Gets Better” campaign continues. Randy Potts is the grandson of evangelist Oral Roberts. His uncle was gay and committed suicide. He is recording an “It Gets Better” video this weekend.

To watch video from Wednesday’s vigil, go to DallasVoice.com/videos

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 22, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas