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On the day I wrote about how much of an embarrassment Chris Carter was to the gay community, I was sent the link to an American local politician who is the complete opposite.

As some of you may know, there has been an increase in media coverage of youth suicide in the US that has been linked to bullying and particularly bullying involving claims that the target of the bullying is gay. Some of these kids were even too young to have known if they were gay or not themselves.

Although this is being called an epidemic, the harsh truth is that it has always been around. It’s just getting more air time at the moment. And the usual toxic responses have been cropping up with many Tea Partiers and conservatives outwardly displaying homophobic hatred with claims that homosexuals are lesser citizens and one particular individual claiming that these suicide victims only had themselves to blame. That bullies are just a way of life and if these kids can’t harden up, tough.

Fort Worth Councilman, Joel Burns, has publically addressed this issue during a televised meeting and his message has now gone viral. Rather than fill his speech with indignant anger and petulant yelling, this brave and openly gay council member talks with compassion and humanity. He openly admits to a painful past and how he got past is and delivers what is the epitome of the growing “It Gets Better” campaign that has been developing in the States.

I feel that this man is someone the gay communities of the world should be proud of. He represents such a shining role model for gay youth to aspire to. A man with compassion, a healthy marriage and the support of families and colleagues. He is the embodiment of “it gets better.”

What is also important is that his message is universal. Bullying and suicide are not exclusively gay issues. And Joel’s story is just as relevant to straight kids who are contemplating suicide or even some act of violence against others – stop. It gets better. It may not seem it now, but it will. His story of the events in his life that he cherishes, the pure honesty of emotion is powerful.

And here in NZ, his message is incredibly important to get out there. We have a tragic problem with suicide in this country, and we need to be talking about it. Joel Burns puts faces to these names during his speech. He challenges his audience to look at these kids, see who they are and put a face to this tragedy.

The classic NZ stoicism and not talking about personal issues is clearly not helping. We need people like Joel Burns who will stand up and challenge us to talk.

And he goes further. He explicitly states the obvious. This. Must. Stop. The bullying needs to stop. It is not enough to say there will always be bullies, what can we do? We should be helping these kids who feel the need to bully. Teachers need to tell them to stop. Parents need to stop encouraging this behaviour or ignoring it. Just because there were bullies in the past is no excuse to keep allowing it.

It gets better, and we all need to learn to be more compassionate. To support the next generation and grow out of this habit of shrugging and saying “it’s human nature.”

People like Joel Burns need our help. We need to add our voices to his and show that our future will get better. That all the doomsayers and bullies are wrong.

And this change is not going to come from petulant threats and complaints of homophobia, it is going to come from compassionate support, honesty and courage.

Conan

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