(Julie, Joel Burns and me backstage at the Ellen show)
I had an incredible experience yesterday - living proof that when you tell the truth, life rewards you in ways you couldn’t have imagined. Thanks to my angel friends Julie and Mary, I got to attend the taping of the Ellen show featuring councilman Joel Burns. If you aren’t familiar with this gentleman, he is the one who gave a moving speech at his City Council meeting in Fortworth Texas about being bullied as a gay teen, and how that almost led him to end his life. The You Tube video has had close to 2 million hits.
The Ellen staff is such a beautiful mixture of gay, straight, young, old, black, white, asian, hispanic…everyone wearing sneakers and baseball caps of their favorite teams. Backstage, as they hustled about getting ready for the show, I was amazed at the happy, relaxed atmosphere which I thought was impossible in TV-land. It just felt so comfortable. No one was stressed or panicked. We were greeted with smiles everywhere we turned (and I attribute that to Mary- completely). But what made my heart swell was the realization that this staff was a microcosm of what the world could be like, and it gave me hope.
Julie and I settled in the audience to watch the show (which I hope you’ll all watch today!). When Ellen stepped out, the audience went wild cheering for her, and I got teary (and the “teariness” never stopped the rest of the day). Imagine twenty, or even ten years ago – this openly gay woman being so beloved and one of the biggest stars in the world. You could feel that love in the room, and my heart was so lifted as I thought to myself We are evolving, finally. Yes, we are evolving.
Joel Burns was inspiring beyond measure. It took such tremendous courage to speak his truth the way he did, and in doing so, he has opened hearts and minds everywhere. He was poised and articulate, speaking from his own heart with such self-assuredness.
After the show, Julie and I rushed backstage to meet him, catching him just as he was leaving with his mother, a lovely Southern lady. He was such a warm and genuine man (and so handsome!). Both Julie and I got choked up as we told him what his courage meant to us, and he responded with warm hugs. He told us he simply felt inspired to make the speech that day, having no idea that it would turn into an internet sensation. In fact, he was stunned by the reaction. His phone line blew up and the city had to install a new system, as they were averaging a call a minute since the video posted.
We then went with him to meet Charles Robbins (CEO of the Trevor Project) another wonderful (and handsome!) man. Charles said the suicide hotlines at Trevor Project have been so busy since the video, they’ve had to expand their staff. Countless lives have been saved all over the world as a result of one man’s courageous, honest speech. Can you imagine? Even as a writer I’m finding it difficult to express what I felt in that moment talking to these trailblazers in tolerance. Almost like I had been holding my breath for so long and could finally exhale, knowing that my brothers and my friends might possibly be the last generation to have endured this form of bigotry, and knowing also that as of today my friend Brian could re-enlist in the military if he so chose. The tide is turning, just as I always believed it would.
Driving home under gloomy gray skies, I was smiling ear to ear. I felt the Universe was giving us all a great big nod- yep, you’re on the right track, people. The rain pelted my windshield, cleansing the world, washing away the pain and prejudice of yesterday. And I realized that this day happened for me largely because I dared to tell my truth when I wrote the blog “For Boys and Girls Standing on Ledges”, admitting my own struggles with suicidal depression as a young person. This was what made Julie think of me when she got an extra pass to this show.
What a wonderful world it would be if we all dared to tell and LIVE our truth. If we followed Joel’s lead, to be honest about who we really are, the fears we harbor, the shame we carry. In telling the truth, we find out how much we’re all alike. Secrets and shame no longer hold any power over us. Without fear – only love remains.
Imagine what would happen if we could:
Replace fear with love.
Rejoice in our commonalities.
Celebrate our differences.
Turn toward each other when we are afraid, rather than against each other.
Oh what a wonderful world it would – (scratch that) will - be.