A city councilman in Fort Worth, Texas, has rocketed into cyberspace prominence in a video pleading with gay teens not to commit suicide and tearfully recounting his own ordeals as a bullied schoolboy.
"Give yourself a chance to see how much life will get better," Councilman Joel Burns says in his appeal to bullied teens, which he made during a 12-minute speech to the council on Tuesday.
By Friday afternoon, the video had received more than 500,000 hits on YouTube, and Burns was being lauded on social networking sites.
Burns, who is openly gay, prefaced his appeal by recounting several of the recent cases in which teens across the U.S. had killed themselves after being targeted by anti-gay bullying.
The victims included Asher Brown, 13, of Houston, who shot himself with his father's handgun, and Tyler Clementi, 18, the Rutgers University freshman who jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York after his roommate secretly recorded him with another male student, then broadcast the video online.
"This bullying and harassment in our schools must stop," Burns said, describing it as an epidemic.
He then recalled his youth in the Fort Worth suburb of Crowley, describing himself as a skinny, sensitive boy who tried to be friendly to all.
In ninth grade, he said, older boys roughed him up, "said I was a faggot and I should die and go to hell where I belonged."
"Ashamed, humiliated and confused, I went home," Burns said. "There must be something very wrong with me, I thought."
After struggling to maintain his composure, Burns, now 40, then addressed himself directly to any gay teens who might see the video.
"You will get out of the household that doesn't accept you. You will get out of that high school, and you don't ever have to deal with those jerks again," he said. "Things will get easier ... Please stick around to make those happy memories for yourself."
When he finished the speech, most of those in the council chamber rose to applaud.
"If the now-viral video ... does not move you to tears, you surely have a tough, leathery little peanut for a heart. I can't watch it without crying," wrote Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd.
Burns' video on YouTube: http://bit.ly/bRTyvH