Grab your partner round ’n round: the gay rodeo’s in town
Published Thursday, 09-Sep-2004 in issue 872
Here comes the rodeo, where wearing chaps has both form, and function; where bareback bronc riding is as titillating as it sounds. It’s a round up, or rodear as the Mexican’s say, a hybrid of traditions from the 1800’s and onward where the caballeros become cowboys who strut for an audience, earning points for roping, speed, and rough stock. Keep it gay, add a dash of camp to the mix, and you’ve got the gay rodeo.
It’s the largest rodeo event on the West Coast, its 16th year in the making, and it happens here in San Diego at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
“There is a rich history in rodeo,” says Steve Woolert, the contestant manager for the radio. “Its roots are in old ranches and farms, where the cowboys would get together and compete on tasks important to their livelihood. Bronc riding was important because horses needed to be broken in order to be ridden. Roping cattle was important as well. Many of these traditions evolved into the sport we see today.”
Woolert was raised on ranches in Colorado and Texas. As a child, he participated in rodeo and it became a part of his psyche. It wasn’t exactly easy being raised in an environment that didn’t wasn’t exactly accepting or friendly to the GLBT community. As he grew up, he found that gay rodeo offered the same things in rodeo he’d always enjoyed, but with an inclusive and friendly nature. Over the years he has competed in many rodeo events, and has found many others who share his love for the sport.
“I’m drawn to the camaraderie,” says Woolert. “There is a genuine spirit of competition. This is a wonderful group of contestants from all over the West. It’s important to remember that rodeo is a sport, just like any other, and not only that, it’s a lot of fun!” Yet one fact needs to be emphasized, a share of the proceeds from this event goes to charity. “Our mission, as a non-profit group, is community outreach, education, and then, rodeo. It is our goal to include and give back to the community.”
Angel Cordero couldn’t agree more. “As a candidate for Mr. Miss & Ms. Gay San Diego Rodeo, “ says Codero. “I believe that we should reach out to the community. It is important that we build bridges to other organizations, and make gay rodeo inclusive, not exclusive. We have chosen the Hillcrest Youth Center to be our beneficiary for this year’s rodeo. We believe that at-risk youth are in great need of the services offered by the center. Sometimes kids just need to be picked up, dusted off, and put on the right track,” Cordero says. “When I was young, at the age of 16, someone came along and helped me out; helped me get on my feet. I was very fortunate, and I think places like the Hillcrest Youth Center can do the same for children who might not have the help or kindness I had received.”
The mission of the Hillcrest Youth Center is to enhance and sustain the health and well being of the LGBTQ and those touched by HIV by providing activities, programs, and services that: create and empower community, provide essential resources, advocate for civil and human rights, embrace, promote, and support cultural diversity. Volunteers work with youth ages 14 to 24, and serve as tutors, mentors, chaperones, role models, and leaders.
“The royalty involved in gay rodeo are a part of our community outreach. We want to play a more active role in the community.” Cordero says, “We do many fundraising events, including our upcoming second annual Mr. , Miss & Ms. San Diego Gay Rodeo Pageant, which will be held Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Handlery Hotel & Resort in the Hotel Circle in Mission Valley from 6:00 p.m. to midnight in the Crystal Room.” Contestants in the pageant will be judged by their “Western Wear,” Q&A sessions, entertainment number, song or comedy, and community services.
“Considering that this year’s pageant takes place on Sept. 11, we decided not to dance around the subject, but rather, we are dedicating the day to all our GLBT brothers and sisters who served or have served in all branches of our armed forces.” says Codero. “Think of all of the homecomings where our community must hide their emotions until they get home from arriving at the bay, as their straight friends hug and kiss in reunion. We need to honor these people. We will also remember those who were lost, and realize the importance of those individuals who protect our lives and freedoms.”
Other fundraisers which take place during the year include car washes, spaghetti dinners, a Gay Rodeo AIDS Walk Team, and the “Best Ass in Denim” contest at Kickers. To Cordero, it is important that gay rodeo be seen as an organization open to all kinds of people, young and old (or seasoned, if you will), straight and gay, and across the spectrum of LGBTQ.
“Gay rodeo is for everyone,” says Codero. “First and foremost, it’s a benefit. We want the community to know that we’re here, and we’re here to help. But best of all, it’s very entertaining! There is a lot of singing and dancing in addition to the cowboy events, there is live entertainment, vendors of western wear, and many events that go on throughout the evening, including a casino night and a pool party. At best, it’s a great mixer where you can meet people from all over the West and other parts of the country.”
Gay rodeo itself started in smaller locales like Reno, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado, and expanded over the years to encompass the rest of the nation. The phrase, “We are everywhere!” took on a great meaning to those involved. From small, rural areas, fellow rodeo fans formed groups as individuals in the gay rodeo movement coalesced in the late ‘70s. Starting in Reno, a group raised money in ’75 and again in ’77 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It took a lot of work and coordination to secure both a place to have the event, and the animals involved. At that time, it was rare to work with any city or rancher who wouldn’t discriminate.
According to the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), the movement expanded throughout the West into Utah and California through the early ‘80s, the attendance moving up, as well as the overall donations to beneficiaries. Not only that, but the peripheral events of square dancing and line dancing were growing in popularity, as well as the pageantry. Through the years, what started as a patchwork of ‘urban-cowboy’ style bars and small rodeo groups grew into a well-established community. This growth culminated into the formation of the IGRA, where in 1985, rules committees were formed and standards were put in place to make more uniform the participating rodeo groups. Twenty years later, rodeo is still alive and kicking, and raising a lot of money for charity.
Contestants in the upcoming San Diego rodeo event will be competing in four different areas: speed, roping, rough stock, and camp. The speed events include barrel racing, where the riders form a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels and vie for the fastest time, flag racing, and pole bending, where if you bend a pole, it’s OK, but if you knock it over, you lose points. In the roping events, there will be calf roping, roping while mounted on horseback, and team roping where a ‘header’ and ‘heeler’ try to rope the steer as a team.
Rough stock includes the traditional bull riding, one of the most exciting events. Riders mount a wild bull as it bucks relentlessly in order to throw the rider off. Bucks are not castrated, making them extremely feisty and aggressive. Another event in the rough stock category is steer riding. Here, the animal is already castrated. The animal is no weakling; its primary objective is to get away from you. Bareback bronc riding is where a bronc, or horse that hasn’t been broken, wildly bucks the rider who tries to stay on for a set period of time. Rough stock also includes chute dogging. In this event a steer must be wrestled (dogged) to the ground after its release from a chute.
The darlings of the gay rodeo, the camp events, are no less dangerous to the competitors. In goat dressing, contestants must catch a goat tethered to a stake, and then place a pair of men’s jockey shorts on the back legs and rump of the goat and tag the timer. If the underpants fall off, they are disqualified. In steer decorating, the contestants must tie a ribbon to the tail of a wild steer. The steer wants nothing to do with this, so it can be a quite entertaining, and sometimes injurious activity. The crowd favorite, the wild drag race, is one of the most dangerous events in all of gay rodeo. A three-person team, one male, one female, and one in drag (male or female) must maneuver a steer tied to a rope across a center-line of the arena. Once across the line, the drag contestant on the team must successfully mount and then ride the steer back across the finish line. All must be done within 60 seconds, and the fastest time wins.
Alcohol and food are served at the event, which add to the party atmosphere. Maybe some cowgirl or cowboy will lasso your fancy. And best of all, it’s for a good cause.