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A bull rider at the 2007 Atlantic Stampede, an annual rodeo event organized by the Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association

A Gay rodeo is a rodeo with predominantly gay participants and spectators. It has its inception with the creation of the International Gay Rodeo Association in Reno, Nevada.


Homosexuality in the Old West

The American Old West or Wild West comprises the history, geography, peoples, lore, and cultural expression of life in the Western United States (i.e., anywhere west of the Mississippi River), most often referring to the period of the latter half of the 19th century, between the American Civil War and the end of the century. More encompassing and more accurate, however, is the inclusion of the entire 19th century and to the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1920.[1] Historically, some men were drawn to the frontier because they were attracted to men.[2] In a region where men significantly outnumbered women, even social events normally attended by both sexes were at times all male, and men could be found partnering up with one another for dances.[3] Homosexual acts between young, unmarried men occurred, but cowboy culture itself was and remains deeply homophobic. Though anti-sodomy laws were common in the Old West, they often were only selectively enforced.[4]

Modern Rodeos

In Rodeo Cowboys in the North American Imagination, Michael Allen notes that homosexual working cowboys almost certainly existed in nineteenth century America, and further indicates that homosexual rodeo competitors appear with regularlity in segregated gay rodeos throughout the West today. Homophobia however dominates the mainstream straight circuit, and depictions of gay rodeo cowboys are likely to be excluded from film, art, literature and music. The urban gay literati and intelligensia of the east and west coasts are unaware of or averse to depicting gay rodeo cowboys, and generally perceive them as exhibiting (in playwright David Link's words), "a rather clunky sense of aesthetics." Some gays are opposed to the cruelty of rodeo and chide gay rodeo cowboys, reminding them that the struggle for animal rights is similar to the struggle for gay rights and women's rights. They claim the white male rodeo establishment labels these struggles as "ridiculous".[5]

Gay rodeo gathering in Washington, DC

In Heartlands: A Gay Man's Odyssey Across America, gay New York writer Darrell Yates Rist describes the melding of homosexuality and straight cowboy culture, with gay rodeo simultaneously embracing archetypal Cowboy Code traits and contemporary gay identity. The Denver Gay Rodeo of 1987, for example, began with a gay minister reading "The Cowboy's Prayer". The rodeo was patently gay with clowns in drag, steer riding "drag queens and dykes in drag", and other gay-tinged events that distinctly set it apart from the mainstream straight circuit. Some disgusted gay cowboys wanted to "butch up" the Denver rodeo because it had become "too gay". Rist was struck with the stoicism and courage of the gay participants noting one bleeding bull rider snuggling "in his lover's thighs to sleep more peacefully" and a wounded bronc rider successfully completing his ride with the exultation, "I damn kicked ass!" Despite their adherence to the Cowboy Code, gays stage their own rodeos because they are not welcomed in the straight circuit no matter how well they perform. "We can ride with the best of them," one gay stated, "But they don't want us around." Nor are they completely accepted by urban gays who, with their sharply defined identities, are puzzled by their country cousins' apolitical and unsophisticated ways.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Howard R. Lamar, ed. The Reader's Encyclopedia of the American West, Harper & Row, New York, 1977, p. 871, ISBN 0-06-15726-7
  2. ^ D’Emilio, John; Estelle Freedman. In Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America. 
  3. ^ Wilke, Jim. Frontier comrades: homosexuality in the America West. p.164-172; In Out in all directions: the almanac of gay and lesbian America. Edited by Lynn Witt, Sherry Thomas and Eric Marcus. New York: Warner Books, 1995. p. 635
  4. ^ Garceau, Dee; Matthew Basso and Laura McCall (2001). Nomads, Bunkies, Cross-Dressers, and Family Men: Cowboy Identity and the Gendering of Ranch Work. New York: Routledge. pp. 308, 149–168. 
  5. ^ a b Allen, Michael (1998). Rodeo Cowboys in the North American Imagination. Reno: University of Nevada Press. pp. 170–173. ISBN 0-87417-315-9. 

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