Out of the chute and in the pit
Published Thursday, 10-Sep-2009 in issue 1133
When I think of cowboys my mind instantly flashes to visions of “Little Joe Cartwright” on the 1960s television series “Bonanza.”
Little Joe, played by a young Michael Landon was handsome, masculine and extremely sexy – everything you’d want in a symbol of the wild, wild west.
Today we still expect cowboys to be handsome, masculine and extremely sexy, with an unmistakable swagger. Throw in a pair of boots, hat and tight jeans, with fringed chaps and we’re ready to drop to our knees in worship of this American icon. Times have changed but our fantasies of the bow-legged cowboy lives on.
In the GLBT community, the rodeo allows us to experience that time of dirt, sweat and hyper-masculinity.
Like the “bears” there is a huge crossover between the cowboy community and the leather community. Members of the rodeo have continually supported San Diego leather events and vice versa.
A few years back I was lucky enough to attend my first gay rodeo in San Diego. That year, friends said to expect hostile television crews and homophobes picketing the rodeo grounds. Nothing could have been further from the truth. The local community welcomed the gay cowboys, cowgirls, rodeo queens and kings, clowns, cheerleaders and all aspects of the gay rodeo. A good time was had by all and yes, there were handsome, masculine and extremely sexy cowboys everywhere.
When it comes to thrill and excitement, there is nothing quite like the rodeo. It is a great place to have fun outdoors, get dirty, enjoy talented individuals and participate in your community.
Gay rodeo is a serious event and includes all the regular attractions of a traditional rodeo, including bull and bronc riding, steer wrestling and barrel racing. Of course, there are also the usual camp events like goat dressing, steer decorating, and wild drag race. Gay rodeo is not just for gays – gay or straight – if you want to pursue this growing attraction, you too can become a gay rodeo cow-person.
This year the Greater San Diego Chapter of the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association will celebrate 21 years of boots, hats, horses, rodeo clowns and a queen or two. The festivities will take place this weekend, Sept. 11-13, at the Lakeside Rodeo Grounds and the Handlery Hotel and Resort.
In order to move past my images of Little Joe, and to help me understand the true nature of the rodeo, I turned to event and assistant hotel coordinator, Scott Mize and Rodeo President, Kelly Gilliland.
I got them “out of the chute” and “into the pit!”
Gay & Lesbian Times: Besides the indulgence of my fantasies what is the purpose of the “gay” rodeo?
Rodeo: Gay rodeo came into existence in 1984 when a group of gay cowboys and cowgirls wanted to raise some money for the MS society. From that moment on, gay rodeo took root and is what we know today as the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA). Many of our competitors compete in general rodeos. The gay rodeo help erase stereotypes for our community. There are a lot of gay people that love the rodeo and the country lifestyle, so it is a way for us to enjoy that.
GLT: Why are people drawn to the rodeo other than the dirty and sweaty men?
Rodeo: People are drawn to it because of the competition and their love of horses. Gay men took to gay rodeo when they could not compete as themselves in more traditional rodeo circuits. By having a rodeo set up for gays and lesbians they could compete on equal levels and enjoy a good time and develop there skills and horsemanship.
GLT: What goes into preparation for the rodeo?
Rodeo: Competitors are constantly preparing and training to perfect their specific skills, whether that be pole racing, barrel racing or bull riding. If they are doing a horse or speed event they usually own a horse and will practice and work with the horse so the two can work well together in the arena. For those competing in more solo events, they too practice their skills at home or at other rodeos or whenever they have a chance to rope and wrestle a steer.
GLT: What are some of the other rodeo activities and how does the rodeo benefit the community?
Rodeo: Leading up to the event we do anything from beverage busts to “casino nights” at local venues to raise funds. After the event, we donate to a specific charity that is chosen by the rodeo. This year, we have chosen Family Matters. The San Diego Chapter has raised and given back to the San Diego Community $212,000 over the years.
The rodeo is one of the first sports where gay men and women could compete and not worry about competing. There is also the historical bond between the Imperial Court system and IGRA. We support each other’s events. The western lifestyle is loved by many. We offer an outlet where a person can go from city life to working with farm animals in the great outdoors.
GLT: How does one get involved with the rodeo?
Rodeo: For anyone to get involved they do not need to own a horse or ride. They do not even need cowboy boots or a cowboy hat although hat and boots must be worn in the arena for safety. The individual needs to have a desire to learn more about the country western lifestyles. They also must volunteer to help raise monies that are going to be donated back to the community. Visit (International Gay Rodeo Association) to find a local chapter. For San Diego, go to
Until next time, see ya In The Pit. Please send your events and press releases to

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