By Dave Montgomery, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram
AUSTIN — Fort Worth Councilman Joel Burns, whose emotional "life will get better" message touched Internet audiences worldwide, on Monday strongly endorsed efforts to crack down on bullying and said he plans to make frequent trips to the state Capitol next year to urge lawmakers to enact the legislation.
"As I stand here today, there are Texas children who believe their only escape from the bullying and harassment is to put a gun to their heads and pull the trigger, empty the pill bottle, or tighten the noose around their necks and step off the chair," Burns said at an Austin news conference to spotlight legislative efforts to deal with bullying after a rash of highly publicized youth suicides.
At least seven anti-bullying proposals have been filed in advance of the 2011 Legislature, including a measure by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth. Leaders of Equality Texas, which lobbies on behalf of gay, lesbian and transgender issues, released a poll showing that 79.2 percent of Texans support anti-bullying legislation to prevent harassment of students, including those who are gay or whose parents are.
Burns said he has received 32,000 e-mails and more than 1,000 phone messages since his mid-October speech reaching out to youths who are struggling with their sexuality. Burns, who is gay, recounted his own struggles as a teen but sought to assure young listeners and viewers that "life will get so, so much better." Burns said the responses were nearly all supportive.
Many, he said, "would break your heart," but others "would also lift you up and make crystal clear how much Texans love their children."
The councilman called bullying a "problem we cannot afford to ignore another day" and urged the Legislature to enact "comprehensive, common-sense legislation that sets a clear example of respect and love for everyone." Burns, who has publicly backed Davis' bill, said he plans to be in Austin "a lot" after the Legislature convenes Jan. 11 "to talk on this issue" as well as other legislative requests for Fort Worth.
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