FORT WORTH — Councilman Joel Burns still hears from bullying victims at least once a week.
Whether by Facebook or e-mail, someone in the United States or elsewhere in the world reaches out to him.
But Burns, who became an unexpected face of the anti-bullying movement, said there's still a need to raise awareness, noting the death last month of Buffalo teenager Jamey Rodemeyer, who killed himself after being cyber-bullied.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Burns read a proclamation making Oct. 12 Bullying Awareness Day in Fort Worth.
A year ago, a similar event prompted to Burns to speak out.
The councilman, who is gay and was bullied as a teen, gave an emotional talk during an Oct. 11 council meeting after the suicide of a 19-year-old man. Zach Harrington attended a Norman, Okla., City Council meeting where a proclamation recognizing October as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender History Month prompted a debate about homosexuality. A week later, he killed himself, and his relatives say it was because of the harsh comments at the meeting, which had been preceded by years of bullying.
Burns' message to troubled teens was simple: Things get better. His comments went viral, and he was eventually invited to a White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March. He also appeared on the Today show and The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
"The response I received was because of the need," Burns said Tuesday. "There was an existing need to draw attention to this tragedy that people were killing themselves."
Besides raising awareness of anti-bullying efforts, Burns said House Bill 1942, sponsored by Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, gives schools a tool to deal with bullying and allows the victim to stay in that school rather than be transferred or home-schooled. He also said the Obama administration has put school boards on notice that this is an important issue.
As for the teens who contact him, Burns' goal is to get them help.
"I do try to get them in contact with resources," Burns said. "I'm not a suicide prevention officer or counselor. So much of what these kids want is a sense of hope. ... When you're a 13-, 14-, 15-year-old, you don't feel like you're in control of anything."
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