Gay congressional candidate battling the odds in OklahomaBy David Ensor/CNN
FREEDOM, Oklahoma (October 16) -- In many ways Paul Barby is the perfect congressional candidate, a pillar of the community, a college regent who likes to talk about family values.
"I want to tell you, I feel this so strongly, that family values come from generations passing things on to the next generation," Barby tells an audience of voters.
But Barby is a homosexual, one of four openly gay challengers running for the House this year.
In the Bible-belt farming communities of western Oklahoma, Barby's openness costs him votes.
"He talks about family values and it just almost turned my stomach when he was talking about all these family value issues and there's a man that's a gay person that's wanting to write laws about our family values," says one man who attended a Barby campaign event.
"Someone who says they are openly homosexual and continues to live in that lifestyle -- that is a sin. And they need to repent and turn away from that," says another 6th C.D. voter.
"Well let's make it clear in the beginning that I'm not running because I'm gay," Barby explains. "I happen to be a gay person who's been working out there to make the community better. For all my life I've done that."
A crusader for small farms and businesses, Barby is upset to see new Super Wal-Marts opening in his district, driving locally owned retailers out of business.
"We just drove though a little town a little bit ago, that the business district is collapsed." Barby laments, as he takes a visitor through the district. "We're going to go through some more."
And he says, many small family farms in Oklahoma have only survived because they have some oil and gas reserves, and now the price of oil is down.
Blue-collar workers like Alfred Deal in the Polly Anna Cafe are sticking with Barby, and so are many African-American and Native-American voters.
"It always seems to me like a working man has always been better off under a Democratic administration," Deal explains.
But in fact, Barby is the underdog here not just because he's an avowedly gay candidate. It's also because he's a Democrat, in a state where the governor, both senators are and all six members of the House are Republican. Plus, Barby is running in the 6th congressional district, the state's westernmost district and also considered the most conservative.
In their first face-off in 1996, Rep. Frank Lucas won 64 percent of the vote to Barby's 36 percent, even though Barby spent several hundred thousand dollars of his own money on television ads.
"Do you want more federal taxes? I do not. Do you want Uncle Sam out of our lives? I do. Do you represent those views, those values, those goals that are shared by the majority of the citizens in the sixth district? I do." Lucas says.
Lucas doesn't directly raise his opponent's sexual preference; he doesn't have to.
On a conservative radio talk show, the host is talking to Barby about the recent brutal murder in Wyoming of a young gay man.
"You are opposed to the death penalty even in the case of these two thugs in Wyoming?" Mike McCarville of KTOK in Oklahoma City asks.
"I'm opposed to the death penalty," Barby answers.
Barby is against the death penalty but he favors hate crime legislation protecting gays.
"In our open mic live telepoll tonight, my friends, in which I've been asking if you believe we need new or revised hate crime laws at the federal or state level, 81 percent of you agree with your learned host, that we do not," McCarville told his audience.
Unlike some of the other openly gay candidates running for office this November, Barby has not accepted any money from national gay and lesbian organizations, although fund-raising is up for some of the others -- in part, activists say, as a reaction to rhetoric from the right and to the killing in Wyoming.
"We have Matthew Shepard who basically just had his head bashed in because he was openly gay," says Brian Bond of the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund. "At the same time you have Trent Lott calling us every name in the book, you have Gary Bauer sending out letter after letter saying that we are going to destroy America."
While he prefers campaigning, Barby does not dodge questions about the Wyoming killing, from the point of view of a politician who happens to be gay.
"We were bullied on the school ground when we were kids. Why are we still being the subject of bullies? Why is this happening? Why don't people stand up?" Barby asks. "That's why I took a stand because I'm tired of being bullied. I'm tired of being put down because of who I am. I'm a strong individual."
Some are calling Barby a courageous trailblazer. Others believe a gay man running for Congress in this part of the country is tilting at windmills.
Friday, October 16, 1998
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