The gay rodeo comes to town: On the run at the Gay Games

Tallmadge, Ohio – Just as it is a first for Cleveland to host this year’s Gay Games, it’s a first for the Gay Games to host a rodeo, so I decided to check it out.

On Sunday and Monday, more than 100¬†gay rodeo competitors from as far away as Australia and South Africa descended on Summit County’s Fairgrounds for events such as steer riding, pole bending, and a wild drag race in which a team composed of a cowboy, cowgirl and drag queen goad a steer around rodeo arena.

“We are trying to break the stereotype,” said Assistant Rodeo Director Tommy Channel of Denver, Colorado. “We are cowboys and cowgirls that just happen to be gay.”

According to Channel, the Gay Games asked the International Gay Rodeo Association to produce a rodeo event and enlisted people from all over the country to pull it together over the last five years.

“It’s gone phenomenally well,” said Channel, adding that the International Gay Rodeo Association would like to participate in future Gay Games in some capacity, but may not be able to do anything extensive when they’re not in North America because it would be prohibitively expensive for participants to haul their horses outside the continent.

Channel said the International Gay Rodeo Association formed about 30 years ago in Reno, Nevada as a local fundraiser for muscular dystrophy and gradually spread around the United States and Canada.

In addition to hosting traditional rodeo events like calf roping and barrel racing, it hosts events of its own like the wild drag race and a steer decorating contest in which participants try to tie a ribbon on the tail of a wild steer.

Steer decorating contestant Dana Kimball of Irving, Texas got into the sport in 2008 because her friends did it and she thought it looked fun. Kimball said she plans to take six cases of Great Lakes Brewing Co. Dortmunder Gold back to Texas in the horse trailer because she enjoys it so much.

C.A. Boliver of Albuquerque, New Mexico, who participated in a calf roping on foot event, was the oldest rodeo contestant at age 83. Even though he roped his calf in 1.7 seconds, it wasn’t fast enough for a medal. He didn’t care.

He said he grew up roping cattle on a ranch and began participating in gay rodeo events as soon as they started. He said he found it a good way to meet gay people with interests similar to his own.

“Before that, you couldn’t be yourself and go to a rodeo,” the retired banker said. He said some gay people participate in straight rodeo events, “but they have to be closeted because there are still lots of people” aren’t accepting.

Channel said rodeo participants must carry insurance to pay for care if they’re injured and must also sign a liability waiver. He said his group prioritizes animal safety and bars livestock abuse and the use of cattle prods.

“We are inclusive, not exclusive,” said Channel. “You don’t have to be gay to participate. As long as you have a love of country and western lifestyle, you’re welcome to party with us and enjoy the show.”

by Sabrina Eaton, Plain Dealer Washington Reporter 

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