Rhett Barney: Ready to Take on the World. Photo: David Newkirk
Total paralysis, deaths of lovers and painful memories have thwarted Utahn Rhett Barney’s step before, but he’s still here, feet tapping with impatience. When Barney leans over a coffee table to stare me dead in the eye and say that he’s going to Washington to “change this fucking law,” well, I believe him.
Barney, a well-known Salt Lake City retail fixture for 40 years, is angry, and he wants us to know about it. “I wanted to have that shirt that says “Man With Balls” on it. That’s the most important shirt,” Barney says, lamenting the fact that he forgot to bring the much-beloved shirt to his photo shoot for this article. That t-shirt’s phrase is important to a man who once experienced total paralysis for half a year. “One day I stood up out of bed and I fell down. I had Guillan-Barré [Syndrome]. I was paralyzed for six months,” Barney says. “You do a lot of soul searching in that [situation].” It was during this time that Barney decided to take charge of his life.
“Man With Balls” has become Barney’s mantra. “I’ve finally got all this shit outta my life and now I can be happy,” he says. The only problem with Barney’s happiness is that he has a sensitive, empathetic soul and he wants to see others with emotional scarring from abuses have their time in court regardless of sexual abuse statutes of limitations, which vary from state to state.
As a youth, Barney allegedly suffered abuse from an older man in his neighborhood, and while Barney ultimately confronted the man and raised hell via fliers with accusations about the man in his hometown of Richfield, Utah a few years ago, some victims will never get free. Barney is happier than he was before he confronted his skeletons, but he would be much happier if other people could get involved in a cause that’s near to his heart: a march to the capital building—a march of unity and support for changing the laws involving sexual abuse charges. Barney would like to lead a march to the LDS Church office buildings in town, too. He’s fed up with being a member, wants to remove his name from the church records and wants others to do the same if they’re so inclined. Barney has been frustrated with the time tactics the Church employs to slow removal of records. He is also upset about the fact that a temple-recommend-holding member of the LDS church with abuse in his background, like his victimizer, is allowed to practice holy rights while Barney is not even allowed to hold hands on Main Street Plaza in Salt Lake with a male friend. Barney wants nationwide equality and justice, as he sees it—now. Right now.
Barney could be in San Francisco, designing stores, as he did for Mervyn’s nationally at one time, and marching there, but he loves Utah, his family and the people. “I love it here. We have change in seasons. People are moving here from all over the world and it’s not because of the Mormon church. They’re losing their power, why do you think a democratic mayor keeps winning here?” he says. This particularly excites Barney and his trademark twinkling eyes verify this.
Barney has been known to march before, his first PRIDE march was very memorable, with Barney wearing an American flag draped over his body, but this march is different, he clarifies, “It isn’t a gay thing.” It’s about “people.” People that Barney says need to know their voices are still heard even though justice has turned a blind eye to the situation. He’d like to go to Washington with his message and let others hear it as well. He seems a whirling dervish of intense energy when talking about making this a national issue. Sometimes you have to take matters into your own hands, balls firmly clutched, and Barney has brought both of his to Salt Lake City.
At the time of publishing, Barney had yet to obtain permits for his march. For information regarding when the march will take place email firstname.lastname@example.org.