The first gay rodeo was the brainstorm of a cowboy named Phil Ragsdale. In 1975, the Reno, Nevada, native was looking for a way to raise cash for a senior citizens' Thanksgiving drive. A rodeo would be fun, he figured, and dynamite gay stereotypes. It took Ragsdale a full year to cobble together the event. The next October, 125 people (including a drag queen named Miss Dusty Spurs) filed into the Washoe County Fairgrounds for the first gay rodeo.

No Reno animal traders would rent bulls and horses to Ragsdale for his first 1976 rodeo when they learned it was a gay event.

The Reno event began a mainstay, growing in attendance over the next few years. Groups in California, Colorado, and Texas began sending teams to the rodeo. For rural gay men and women boxed in by small-town, Bible-thumping hegemony, it was a rare safe zone. By 1980, 10,000 people came for the Reno rodeo.

"Whether they were interested in rodeo or not, a lot of people came there because it was one of the few places where people could get together and be open," explains Frank Harrell, webmaster for the Gay Rodeo History Project site.

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.

In 1985, the IGRA was founded as an umbrella group to set out rules for regional rodeos and run a national championship. But despite a shiny new national organization and growing popularity, gay rodeo faced — always did and probably always will — a wall of discrimination from the straight world.

"All professional sports really are behind the times as far as being accepting of the LGBT lifestyle, but rodeo I think is more so," says Matt Livadary, a filmmaker whose documentary on the IGRA, Queens and Cowboys, is currently surfing the festival circuit on waves of critical kudos. "It's the most homogeneous, the most closed-off. They call it the good ol' boys club. If you weren't born into it, you're really considered an outsider."

No Reno animal traders would rent bulls and horses to Ragsdale for his first 1976 rodeo when they learned it was a gay event. He had to buy the animals at the last minute.

In 1988, a judge in Churchill County, Nevada, issued a restraining order based on zoning minutiae to stop the Gay Rodeo National Championship. Even though the event was to be held on private property, 1,519 people signed a petition asking the court to intervene. Their concerns were "fear of AIDS" and "disapproval of gay lifestyles." Armed law enforcement kept contestants away from the property.

"We don't want our kids to see any of this. It's offending," one local told the area newspaper. "Supposing they was to come here and have their rodeo and buy a house here and buy a house there," another complained. "In ten years, my property might be worth nothing."

AIDS also bulled hard through the ranks. By the late '80s and '90s, it seemed like every rodeo's program contained a goodbye to another lost friend. Besides the heartbreak, the losses hurt the regional organizations. As a volunteer organization, when key members lost interest or became too sick to help or passed away, it left a gaping hole. As a result, many regional organizations died off, with others stretching out their geographic footprint to handle the slack.

Before 2005, Florida was part of a larger, overburdened organization. But that summer, Todd Garrett was chatting with a friend over the hood of his red Chevy Silverado when he was hit with a question: Why doesn't Florida have its own gay rodeo?

"Most people don't realize that Florida is the horse capital of the world, and it has more cattle than Texas," Garrett says today. ­"Everything between I-75 and I-95 are big ranches."

Within six weeks, they'd written bylaws for the FGRA and solidified a 50-member core. By the next April, the Sunshine Stampede kicked off in Davie.

The FGRA originally wanted to jump the Stampede around to different rodeo grounds across the state. But the Davie location, parked near Fort Lauderdale's well-entrenched gay scene, drew huge crowds. Rodeos in Oklahoma or Arkansas might see a few hundred spectators sprinkled in the stands; the Sunshine Stampede packed in wild thousands.

"It's the Mardi Gras of the gay rodeo," says Livadary.


It is hot and cloudless in Davie on Saturday as the rodeo gets underway. The crowd at the Stampede clocks through the stalls and tents set up outside the arena. Vendors hock beer, standard fairground food, leather goods, and chain jewelry. Near the gate, the Barbers & Beer, Women & Wine Barbershop is providing massages and pressing free beer koozies into every passing palm. A dance floor is shaded under a large tent, where all day, cowboys will two-step to the gay-themed country music twanging from speakers.

Men outnumber women five-to-one, from waifish men in pipe-cleaner jeans and stylish country shirts to gym-huge guys hieroglyphed head to foot in tattoos, their sunglasses conveniently hanging from hoop nipple rings. Waves of cowboy hats river in and out of the shadows under the arena's rust-colored roof where the competition takes place.

IGRA events have all the fixings of your standard hey-dude giddyup rodeo. Competitors dog it out in 13 events. First up are standard roping contests, where contestants, either from the ground, on horseback, or in two-person teams, try to lasso calves as they shoot from the gate.

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3 comments
ralphpetrucci
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.

Slackology
Slackology

Fucking attention whore homo's....

gaelrmurphy
gaelrmurphy

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!

 
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