Cowboys have always been a tough breed. Boots, chaps, and cattle drives on lonesome trails between lawless towns. Saloon fights, gunslingers, wanted posters, and a monthly wage. This is the picture perceived. The romanticism of the way the West was won is filled with images of these iconic heroes. They blazed trails across the US through no-man’s-land from Kansas to Texas, and further westward, taming the landscape in between.
Many tales have been written, honoring the heroics and bravery of those souls. Their stories were pulp fiction of the day, glorifying their way of life, romancing us with wild tales, gunfights, blood, and guts of the era. These strong men have held a place in history, remembered with reverence, written into our history as heroes on horseback, braving the elements, taming the unknown wild.
“If you’re pondering the idea of gay cowboys in the West, stop and give deep thought.”
So much is assumed and yet so much was left out.
Even before the word “homosexual” was coined, it was presumptuously assumed that cowboys were all heterosexual or at least that is what we’ve been led to believe. Where are the tales of the gay cowboy? Did they exist? Yes, they did, but those stories would not be told for many generations. While acts of manlove weren’t necessarily frowned upon, they were also not honored in the tales of the Wild West either.
If you’re pondering the idea of gay cowboys in the West, stop and give deep thought. For generations these unsung heroes were hidden back in histories, their stories untold, as if the words “gay” and “cowboy” couldn’t possibly go together. They were there, just as there were women in the Civil War, probably much more than we’ll ever know.
The stigma surrounding gay cowboys has carried well into our generation. More recently, stories like Brokeback Mountain have popped up, giving voice to the silent enemy, telling a story that more than likely hit close to home for many throughout our short history. As with any cause, a journey starts with one who is willing to step up and become a voice.
One cowboy back in 1975 came up with a radical idea and set out to make it happen. While trying to figure out a way to raise money for an annual Senior Citizens Thanksgiving Day Feed, Phil Ragsdale came up with a wild plan. The birth of the gay rodeo started with the intention of not only raising funds for charity, but to also break down gay stereotyping. As one can imagine, his journey wasn’t easy. He had trouble finding a place for the venue and an even harder time rounding up livestock. Many ranchers would not allow their animals to be used by gay participants.
“What started out as a small charity rodeo event has grown ever since, boasting associations, connections, or memberships from thirty states in the US and even a couple of providences in Canada.”
By 1976, Phil found a place to hold the rodeo, along with five wild cows, ten calves, one pig, and one Shetland Pony. A hundred and twenty five people participated in the very first Gay Rodeo in Reno, Nevada. While the money raised wasn’t grand, it had a purpose and was donated to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Each year following, the rodeo gained more participants and eventually associations in different states began being formed. One of the first was California, followed by Utah, and Texas. By 1981, the organization raised $40,000 for MDA.
Since that time many changes have occurred. Associations have risen and fallen. New associations pop up across the US. Another change was the designation of charitable monies. Instead of all funds going to a single cause, the money was split fifty-fifty, with half going to the MDA and the other half to a gay-related charity.
The movement was small, acquiring new associations throughout the years. Within a decade, the International Gay Rodeo Association had been formed. What started out as a small charity rodeo event has grown ever since, boasting associations, connections, or memberships from thirty states in the US and even a couple of providences in Canada..
Today, the rodeo promises to be nothing less than one hell of a good time. Contests include classic rodeo activities like bull riding, calf roping, and barrel racing. There are some untraditional activities like a drag race, goat dressing, and dance competitions as well.
What started out as a vision of one, looking for a way to fund senior citizens for a Thanksgiving Day event, has become an unstoppable force that continues to grow each year. I encourage you to get out there and attend one of the IGRA rodeos and show them your support.
February 14th -16th: Arizona Gay Rodeo – Phoenix, Arizona
February 28th – March 2nd: A Texas Tradition Rodeo – Dallas, Texas
April 4th – 6th: Sunshine Stampede – Fort Lauderdale, Florida
May 2nd – 4th: Hot Rodeo 2014 – Palm Springs, California
May 9th – 11th: Big Horn Rodeo – Las Vegas, Nevada
May 23rd – 25th: Great Plains Rodeo – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
June 27th – 29th: Canadian Rockies International Rodeo – Calgary, Alberta, Canada
July 25th – 27th: Zia Regional Rodeo – Santa Fe, New Mexico
August 9th – 16th: Gay Games 9 Rodeo – Akron, Ohio
August 29th – 31st: Show Me State Rodeo – Kansas City, Missouri
September 5th – 7th: Sierra Stampede – Sacramento, California
September 19th – 21st: Best Buck in the Bay – San Francisco, California
October 16th – 19th: World Gay Rodeo Finals – Ft. Worth, Texas
“There is one thing stronger than all the armies of the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” Victor Hugo
For more information on the International Gay Rodeo Association, visit: http://www.igra.com/
For more gay rodeo history, visit: http://gayrodeohistory.org/index.htm