Former bodybuilder Bob Paris appeared in a recent Oprah Winfrey Where Are They Now? segment to share how his decision to come out in 1989 has affected his life over the past 25 years.
As we continue to follow high-profile sports “coming out” stories like Michael Sam and Jason Collins, it’s important to be aware of the trailblazers who helped forge the slowly stabilizing path towards acceptance in athletics.
It’s a path that’s still rocky to say the least, but consider the social climate Paris faced when he chose to share his truth with the world (and Oprah; is there a difference?). In 1989, when Paris was a celebrated bodybuilder with a Mr. Universe title under his belt, the Los Angeles Times reported that 70 percent of Americans thought homosexuality was a sin. But public opinion didn’t stop him from taking a serious leap of faith on national television, sharing his relationship with fellow bodybuilder Rod Jackson.
Asked why come out? back in ’89, he told Oprah:
“You fall in love. When Rod and I met, we found a spiritual bond between each other. If you bastardize it and you stick it back in your back pocket where no one can see it, then pretty soon you chip away pieces of that bit by bit, until you have absolutely nothing left.”
The lovers become symbols of hope in the fight for gay marriage, but it was career suicide for Paris. He reflects back:
“For me, the repercussions [of coming out] were tremendous. I lost about 80 percent of my business. Literally had doors closed in my face… There were a number of times where my life was threatened. Some death threats came by phone, by mail.”
Bob and Rod (awesome names for a gay couple) eventually split, and Paris met his now-husband Brian LeFurgey in 1997.
Being able to finally make our marriage legal in 2003 healed a spot in my soul that had been wounded from the time I was 14 years old and first realized I was a gay man living in a culture that told me I was less than. Here I was, suddenly being treated as a whole person.
Paris and LeFurgey currently live a happy, quiet life on an Island in British Columbia.
Watch the OWN interview below then scroll down for a look back on Paris and Jackson in their bulky heyday.