Paul Barby, 84 61 Years Lost
Once an Oklahoma rancher and oil man, Paul was also the first openly gay man to have run for U.S. Congress. It was 1996 when he first declared his sexual orientation openly at age 61 in the three-page letter announcing his candidacy, raising eyebrows in his home state and making headlines in The New York Times. Running as the first openly gay male candidate for a federal office was not the political disaster many expected it would be. Notably, Paul earned 96% of the black vote, a block never expected to support a gay candidate at the time. He lost the election narrowly, but his honesty opened minds and doors permanently. Sadly, despite his honesty, Paul has yet to have an intimate same-sex relationship.
I remember very clearly going into the bathroom and looking at myself in the mirror and I thought, ‘You’ll never be able to live with yourself if you don’t run,’ and I did and I’m glad I did. It made life easier for many gay people in Oklahoma.
I was the first openly gay [male] candidate for a federal office nationwide … Someone has to be first.
‘You know, Paul, you’d make a great congressman for us. I’ll vote for you, my family will vote for you, my friends will vote for you, but none of us will stand up for you.’
I got notes from young people, one of them said, ‘Thank you for running, for being open. My father knows you and he likes you very much and you’ve made my life so much easier.’