An openly gay Fort Worth, Texas city councilman says a dramatic speech he gave this week -- a video of which has gone viral and been viewed more than a half-million times on YouTube - has kept some gay teens who are being bullied from committing suicide.
In it, an emotional Joel Burns assures them life gets better beyond high school.
He used a routine council meeting to address young gay victims of bullying, reports "Early Show on Saturday Morning" co-anchor Chris Wragge.
"I have never told this story to anyone before tonight," Burns began.
In a heart-wrenching moment, Burns told of the bullying he endured as a teenager. "They said that I was a faggot and that I should die," Burns said.
The harassment drove him to the verge of suicide, Wragge points out.
"Coming out was painful, but life got so much better for me," Burns continued.
His message, aimed at gay teens across the country, was simple. "You will get out of that high school and you'll never have to deal with those jerks again if you don't want to," Burns said. "You will find and you will make new friends who will understand you. And life will get so, so, so much better.
"You will have a lifetime of happy memories if you just allow yourself and give yourself the time to make them."
When Burns finished, he got a standing ovation from his fellow council members.
Suicide by gay high school and college students is an all-too-familiar tragedy, Wragge notes. There have been at least a dozen such deaths nationwide since the beginning of September.
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On "The Early Show on Saturday Morning", Burns told Wragge he "had just been so heartbroken by all the suicides we saw through September. Then Monday ... I read about the story of a young man named Zack in Oklahoma, who attended a Norman, Okla. City Council meeting at which some anti-gay rhetoric was bandied about, after which he took his life.
"And I thought, 'You know, if this kid in Oklahoma commits suicide after going to a City Council meeting, I certainly am warranted to utilize my time at my City Council meeting in Texas to talk about this issue.' I literally wrote it out during lunch, and it was very raw and very fresh. And I think if I had given myself some time to kind of self-edit, I might not have had such an emotional speech or talk, but I think that that was part of the poignancy of it."
Burns says some of the reaction has been surprising, such as that of an older council member "in his late 70s, very, very conservative. He and I don't always see eye-to-eye on certain things. And, at the end of my talk, he was crying and he hugged me, and that was a nice feeling."
Burns adds the rapid spread of the video online has surprised him "very much so. … The goal for me was two-fold," he explained. "One, to tell kids in Fort Worth or wherever they were watching, to give them hope in a dark time, that things will get better, but they just have though hang out and stay put long enough to make that happen. And also a message for the adults to remind them we have a role and responsibility, as adults, to make sure the school place and otherwise bullying our teens are facing is addressed. And so, that was the goal. It's been an amazing couple of days since."
"I have talked for a number of teens on the phone," Burns continued. "I gave out my phone number during that speech, and I've gotten something like 800 phone calls since. I've had to enlist an army of friends and family to help volunteer to make sure the calls get answered and, obviously, I've got other roles to do besides in this week. But, this has been kind of all-consuming.
But the most poignant one, I think, was a young teenager in Australia. And a friend of his e-mailed me and she and I have had a conversation back-and-forth about how he was -- she knew he was in a dark place, in a bad place. She asked him to watch it and he said, 'I was planning this weekend to kill myself.' And I've had a number of kids like that I've talked to."
To watch Burns' speech, click on the player below.
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