On April 11 Joel Burns, Fort Worth City Councilman and former Texas Wesleyan student delivered the keynote address about bullying in Martin Hall at 6:30 p.m. for the annual University College Day at Texas Wesleyan University.
Bullying is a topic that Burns himself has dealt with it. In his keynote address he discussed bullying from a personal place and how he was able to overcome it by standing up and not being afraid.
“It doesn’t always work out so great. You can’t take on every charge and every wrong thing in the world,” Burns said. “But there are opportunities out there to listen to that voice, to hear that call and to acknowledge it and be bold.”
Burns said he has served on many local boards and commissions and worked with many neighborhood and professional groups dedicated to preserving and protecting Fort Worth. He was first elected to Fort Worth City Council in 2007 in a special election, during which a sitting city council member, Chuck Silcox, campaigned for Burns’ opponent Chris Turner because Turner was straight.
Burns said both straight and gay voters of Fort Worth’s District 9 overwhelmingly voted for him despite the political homophobic remarks. He was elected to a full term in the 2009 municipal election. He was the first openly gay person ever elected to political office in Tarrant County. Throughout his time in office Burns said he has battled with being accepted and what bullying has done to him even as an adult.
“Anyone who has ever been part of the equation of bullying knows that experience can stay with you a lifetime and that can impact much of what happens in your adult life” Burns said. “I wanted someone to do something, make this horrible hurtful thing that’s happening in our country to stop,” Burns said.
In October 2010 during a Fort Worth City Council meeting, Burns revealed for the first time his own struggle with bullying as a teenager.
In his speech, Burns spoke about his own experience as a 13-year-old boy facing bullying at school in Crowley, Texas because of his sexual orientation.
Burns said that day has changed his life forever because it changed so many others as well.
Gina Kautai, senior business major was moved by Joel Burns’ story.
“When he started talking about his own personal experiences with bullying I wasn’t expecting that,” Kautai said. “He was able to be transparent in a way I was able to connect with him.”
Burns said in his keynote address that the speech was posted on YouTube and received more than 3 million views to date. Shortly thereafter, he held his first television interview on the subject with CNN’s Ali Velshi, after the show aired the 13-minute YouTube clip in its entirety, an unprecedented occurrence for a major daytime news program.
He also discussed how he was featured on scores of national and international news media, including an in-studio interview with Matt Lauer on NBC’s Today Show as well as an appearance on the popular Ellen DeGeneres talk show. He was also invited to participate in the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
Christina Anderson, freshman business major, was overwhelmed by the speech Burns gave during University College Day. “It amazes me how much success can come from tragedy,” Anderson said. “His speech was very enlightening, and it made me want to do my part to bring a change in the world.”
Burns has been a leader for economic development, aiming to protect the quality of life in his local neighborhoods. He is also a strong supporter of education, advocating for the best learning environment for all students by ending bullying.
“The amazing gift I received from this experience was not going to the Ellen DeGeneres show; it was being able to connect with young kids,” Burns said. “This all would not have happened if I didn’t do something people expected me to – having more integrity in my life and being honest.”