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Thousands Respond To Fort Worth City Councilman's 'It Gets Better' Message

Listen To Melissa Block's Interview With Joel Burns

On Tuesday night, Joel Burns, an openly gay member of the Fort Worth City Council, spoke directly to teenagers at high schools in his district -- and, thanks to YouTube, around the world.

"I know that life can seem unbearable," he told them. "I know that the people in your household, or the people in your school, may not understand you, and they may physically harm you. But I want you to know that it gets better."

Since then, the councilman's office phone and e-mail inboxes have been inundated with messages. In an interview with NPR's Melissa Block, he estimated he has received more than 12,000 comments.

Burns said that, in just one day, three teenagers told him they "saw the video at a place where they were considering taking their own lives."

And if there's only one of those kids, then I was successful on Tuesday night. It was worth every tear shed. It was worth even my mom and dad being upset.

He has asked friends and family members to help him read, and listen to, every message.

"If there's a kid out there that needs resources, I've made a commitment to get those to them," Burns said.

In the video, he struggles to get through several sentences. Finally, he skips them entirely.

Block asked Burns what they described.

"It was just a very dark place," he said. "A very difficult place where I considered taking my own life."

Because of the graphic nature of the story, and concerns about how his parents might react to it, he decided not to read the passage aloud.

Burns said he has had several conversations with family members since the video went viral.

"It's a nice reminder, not that I needed one, that I've got some incredible parents," he said.

Although Burns wanted to address teenagers, he also had a message for adults: "It is never acceptable for us to be the cause of any child to feel unloved or worthless."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

David Gura
Based in New York, David Gura is a correspondent on NPR's business desk. His stories are broadcast on NPR's newsmagazines, All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and he regularly guest hosts 1A, a co-production of NPR and WAMU.