If you google Bob Paris, you're not going to find much. A wikipedia entry. Bobparis.com. Some then and now videos. And yet, as the first professional athlete to come out of the closet, you would think there would be an HBO series in his name.
But first: a little more about Bob. He was born and raised in Indiana. In his early days he was both an artist and an athlete. As a high schooler experimenting with weight training, he decided to become a body builder. He moved to Carlifornia and won Mr. Los Angeles and Mr. Southern California. As the 80s progressed, he became the picture perfect macho man, rivaling the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He won the Mr. Universe title in 1983. However, in 1989 he made true history by coming out as a gay man, in a time when the majority of America still considered homosexuality a sin.
Within the same year, he married his boyfriend Rod Jackson. When Oprah Winfrey asked him why he decided to come out, he explained that when you fall in love and you hide it, that it slowly chips away at the connection. And although he and Rod became symbols of gay love and marriage, his career suffered tremendously. He lost about 80% of his business at the time.
Eventually, his marriage to Rod ended, and Bob states that he prolonged the end of the relationship because of his fear that their divorce might fuel anti-gay movements. However, he met his second husband, Brian LeFurgey, shortly thereafter and the two were married in 2003. They still live together in British Columbia, and since coming out and his major career shift, Bob has worked as an actor and writer, pursuing his artistic side in place of athletics.
Bob's story is not a simple one. The ramifications of doing what it takes to live an authentic life and to break down barriers are often harsh. But ultimately, the reward comes from the knowledge that you lived your life the way you thought was right, both behind closed doors and in public, and it's athletes like Bob who laid the foundation for the out and proud athletes of 2020.
If you're interested in more, additional references and information about Bob's life are available here.
Written by Kelly Boner, a staff writer for proteatoyota who joined the team in September 2019. She is a designer, drag artist, member of the Chicago LGBTQ community, and avid email marketing enthusiast.