The Sunshine Stampede: Gay Cowboys, Drag Queens, and Bull Riders

The Sunshine Stampede: Gay Cowboys, Drag Queens, and Bull Riders
Illustration by Liam Peters

The goat doesn't want to wear the undies. Can't blame him. Plus-sized, bleached-white tighty whities are not very chic.

"Hoedown!" the announcer shouts. "We've got a ho down!"

A tall man, blue shirt tucked neatly into his jeans, holds up the animal's brown-and-white-mottled back end, while his teammate, a squat woman, tries to work the underpants on. The goat's hooves are jabbing like a frantic band leader's batons, so the woman can't quite sling them home. Up in the stands, the thousand cowpokes in attendance — from country-fried ranch lifers to cowboys-for-the-day — toss aside their cold beers, margaritas, and the occasional shots of Fireball to cheer loudly, lustily, for the man-versus-beast slapstick.

"James is used to pulling them down," cracks a female announcer through PA static. "He's having a little trouble getting them up."

Ed Aiello, known on the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit as "Lil' Hoss," clinched Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Photo by George Martinez
Ed Aiello, known on the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit as "Lil' Hoss," clinched Rookie of the Year in 2008.
Karey Lipham is one of the few women to ride bulls on the gay rodeo circuit.
Photo by George Martinez
Karey Lipham is one of the few women to ride bulls on the gay rodeo circuit.

Once they finally get the garment up around the animal's waist, the pair beat it back across the chalky Mars-scape of furrowed dirt carpeting the Bergeron Rodeo Grounds in Davie. No sooner have they crossed the finish line and received their score than another pair line up and bolt. The goat, unclothed now by a member of the rodeo crew, waits tethered to a brick. As the new team runs toward the goat, one of the women face-plants into the dirt.

"Hoedown!" the announcer shouts. "We've got a ho down!"

This contest — officially called "goat dressing" — isn't one you'd see on the schedule at any of the usual rodeo events swinging through Bergeron. But for the eighth time since 2006, the arena is holding the Sunshine Stampede, a two-day, 13-event competition put on by the Florida Gay Rodeo Association (FGRA), the state chapter of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA).

Gay rodeo is a longtime staple of the LGBT community — a dusty crossroads where camp and cowboy meet, a rainbow flag planted in one of Americana's most conservative corners. For more than 30 years, gay folk with a hankering for horse and livestock competition have found refuge here, where they can be themselves without keeping their sexual identity folded away. IGRA events are the only places on any side of the Mississippi where you can put Hanes on livestock or ride a bucking steer while dressed in drag.

See also: Sunshine Stampede Rodeo 2014 at Bergeron Rodeo Grounds (Slideshow)

Sunshine Stampede in Davie is the largest of the 12 rodeos on the gay circuit, except for the finals held every year in Fort Worth, Texas. Historically, Florida is a can't-miss stop on the schedule, famed for big raucous crowds, quality competition, and a killer pool party. But at this year's rodeo, where the goat dressing gracefully slides into a steer-wrestling event, some insider squabbles are threatening to sour the festivities.

Due to what various rodeogoers describe as "too many chiefs, not enough Indians," "egos," and "bullshit," last year the FGRA had to cancel its rodeo, leaving the organization in a crossfire of finger-pointing. A rival faction ousted from the FGRA leadership is now trying to jump-start its own rodeo, potentially cracking Florida's cowboys and cowgirls into separate, competing camps. Is this state big enough for two gay rodeos?

The high-noon showdown comes as gay rodeo is working through growing pains around the country. The institution was a bedrock of LGBT life in the 20th Century, if for only a few, but now, it's having a shaky time finding footing in the 21st, leaving many to wonder if it's not earmarked for obsolescence.

But first: a pool party.

Top 40 hits ride the air outside the pool behind the Renaissance Hotel in Plantation where most of the rodeo competitors are bunking for the weekend. It's late Friday afternoon, and the first rodeo event is 16 hours away. About 100 men ring the pool or splash around the water. In back, a bartender fills plastic cups with stiff drinks and keg beer. One shirtless cowboy stands nears the pool's edge, jackhammering a closed fist over his crotch and shouting at passing friends, "Thanks for coming!"

Ron Rodriquez, barrel-squat and muscular, hoists himself out of the hot tub to talk about the 1,000 pounds he had between his legs this morning.

For three years, the Wilton Manors resident has wanted to climb aboard a bucking bull. Earlier this morning, the FGRA held a rodeo school for the uninitiated. Rodriquez got his chance, lasting a few jostled seconds before kissing dirt.

"It's about the craziest thing you can do," he says, bouncing from foot to foot, still feeling aftershocks of the adrenaline rush, "besides unprotected sex and driving on the highway in South Florida in season."

In the crowd are leaders of the FGRA and the IGRA. Dressed in pressed purple shirts, they stand out from the Speedoed revelers. Although their faces are plastered with relieved grins, they look like they'd benefit from a blood transfusion and a nap. IGRA events are planned by these volunteers. For nearly a year, they've wrung out whatever time and energy is left in workdays and weekends for logistics planning.

This year's Sunshine Stampede has been a particularly unwieldy bitch. Towering among the organizers, with a high Stetson hat adding extra inches to his tall frame, is Todd Garrett. One of the FGRA's founders, the goateed rancher from Bradenton has been darting around all day on last-minute prep. "I need a drink," he says exhaustedly, rattling a plastic cup.

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ralphpetrucci topcommenter

That illustration (if done by a gay, bi or straight man) is pathetic and not representative of the men who participate in this sport. Put it on the paper cover even. Shame.


Fucking attention whore homo's....


How charming that the GLBT community can now enjoy abusing farmed animals with the same barbaric gusto as the straight sadists!  And women can now torture and kill buls in the bullfight ring just like the male savages do!  You've come a long way Baby!