Hate Crime Survivor: ‘It Gets Better'

Recent Oak Lawn attacks prompts survivor to reach out, help

A North Texas man is reaching out to the victims of a series of recent hate crimes in Dallas’ Oak Lawn neighborhood for the most basic reason – he’s been where they are.

Just don’t call Burke Burnett a victim; he prefers the term "survivor."

"If I'm identifying as a victim then I’m seeing what happened to me and it's like I didn't win. It's like I lost. And if I’m a survivor, I overcame, and I’m able to make something good out of that ugly situation," Burnett told NBCDFW.

In October 2011, Burnett, who is openly gay, survived an attack at a party near Paris, Texas – about 100 miles northeast of Dallas.

The results of the attack were brutal – his left eye bruised and swollen, burns on his arm from being pushed into a fire and stitches from where one of the men stabbed Burnett with a broken bottle.

"It was ugly," Burnett said. "I hate looking at those pictures other than the fact that it's really cool to see how far I've come."

Both of Burnett's attackers were later convicted and are serving 10 years in state prison, with a hate crime enhancement increasing the sentence.

After the attack, Burnett moved to Dallas.

In 2012 he met Justin Carrier. By 2014 the couple was married.

In early 2015 Burnett and Carrier adopted a son, Caleb, who is now 11-months-old.

And for the second time in the same year, Burnett and Carrier became dads again.

The couple adopted son Cody three days before Christmas – just two days after he was born.

"The idea of having them so close together wasn't the initial plan," Burnett said with a smile. But we're happy that it happened that way."

"Burke has a heart of gold, and he wants to help everybody," Carrier said of his husband. "I'm so proud of him and the things he's done."

Recently, Burnett has done a lot.

Burnett, along with two other recent crime survivors, helped to form a group called “SOS – Survivors Offering Support.”

"I hadn't thought about [my attack] in a long time. But I started reading about [the Oak Lawn incidents] and I really wanted to do something to help," Burnett said.

In addition to a monthly meeting, held on the second Tuesday of the month at 7 p.m. at the Dallas Resource Center, SOS allows Burnett an opportunity to point new survivors in the direction of services they might not know about otherwise.

For instance, Burnett is quick to point to the Crime Victim Services division of the Texas Attorney General’s office and the fund that reimburses out-of-pocket expenses to victims of violent crime and their families.

SOS is seeking additional financial assistance from the community to help cover other expenses for crime survivors, like reimbursing lost rent money if attack victims were robbed in the process.

Burnett told NBCDFW his goal is to help survivors of crimes realize that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

"It totally gets better," Burnett said. "That's what I hope to try to share with anybody that's going through something similar. You got attacked, and you experienced violence and life is ugly right now. But it gets better. That's certainly been the case for me."

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