WELL, THAT HAPPENED: Rodeo Queens

By on July 12, 2016

Boot-scootin’ with the cowboys and cowgirls of the Colorado Gay Rodeo.

Miss CGRA 2006 Gia Diamante, left, and her partner Miss CGRA 2016 Yolanda DeHerrera attempt to put underwear on a goat during the Goat Dressing event at this year’s Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo.  (Photo: Andrew Munz)

Miss CGRA 2006 Gia Diamante, left, and her partner Miss CGRA 2016 Yolanda DeHerrera attempt to put underwear on a goat during the Goat Dressing event at this year’s Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo.  (Photo: Andrew Munz)

JACKSON HOLE, WY – There’s really nothing all that different about gay rodeo. Nothing that would be a dead giveaway on first glance. These rough riders’ hands are just as calloused, their horses just as nimble and sturdy. The dust gets in their eyes just as it does in straight “regular” rodeo, and the tears can come just as easy. When I came down to Golden, Colo., for the 34th annual Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo hosted by the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association, I walked in with zero expectations and figured that with the exception of a couple wigs and some odd events, I was just attending a rodeo.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Get this boy twenty dollars worth of tickets,” the beer cashier said to me upon walking through the fairgrounds. “You got yourself a belt, right? Good because these boys are gonna try and get in your pants quicker than you can re-buckle. Have fun!”

I didn’t know a soul and meandered into the scene with wide eyes and a curious thirst for knowledge. I wanted to know what this rodeo was all about. Who participated? And what made it stand out from the countless other rodeo events around the country?

At registration I introduced myself as a writer from Jackson who was interested in writing about the rodeo. A drag queen named Yolanda Deherrera welcomed me and pulled some strings to get me an all-access pass. The pass would allow me to venture anywhere I wanted, including back in the chutes. I was then introduced to Carolyn Herbert, this year’s rodeo director, who said that I shouldn’t feel shy about walking up to people and asking them about their histories.

Before attending, I watched the 2014 documentary Queens and Cowboys, which is about the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit. The film presents gay rodeo as it is today, profiling some of the riders and board members who make the rodeos possible around the country. Competitors attend as many regional rodeos as they can to earn points that will qualify them for the World Gay Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas every October.

One of the people profiled was a Texas cowboy named Wade Earp (a distant relation to famed gunslinger Wyatt Earp), and I was so happy to have been able to run into him and his horse, Bo. He told me he never had the slightest idea that he would be the main subject in the film, and began to get emotional thinking about how positive the response has been.

“I was riding and there was this family in the stands cheering and hollering, a straight family, and they had this pre-teen son who was just so thrilled to meet me because of the film. It’s his favorite movie,” Earp said, wiping tears. “I never thought of myself as a role model.”

Earp went on to say that people are sometimes shocked to learn that most of the contestants here are actual, honest-to-God cowboys. The idea of the “gay cowboy” may be pigeonholed into the “Brokeback Mountain,” category but it ain’t all that unusual to be a cowboy and be gay at the same time.

“I have a working ranch,” he said. “I’m not a hairdresser.”

The IGRA promotes acceptance and diversity, allowing contestants to enter whatever category they want to participate in. Unlike “regular” rodeo, women are able to compete in everything from chute dogging to bull riding. There are no limits on what you want to ride and how you want to look when you ride.

IGRA president Bruce Gros described his Colorado chapter as “supportive, wonderful people who will help you out at the drop of a hat.” Through IGRA, contestants aren’t bitter competitors; instead, they are eager to help one another out, lending out horses, helping cinch folks in, offering up their own equipment to ensure safety.

“[Contestants] want to beat each other on their merits with their absolute best time,” Gros continued.

Attendance has been slowly decreasing through the years, but that doesn’t stop the competitors from giving everything they’ve got to earn a buckle or two. It’s a testament that rodeo isn’t just a masculine man’s game, but a traditional gathering of roughneck riders who grew up living the Western lifestyle. Simple as that.

Rodeo is rodeo. Gay or straight. Man or woman. And, in this case, everything in between. PJH

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