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[whitespace] Golden State Gay Rodeo
Jeff Kearns

Fairgrounds sport a rodeo with a little kick

By Jeff Kearns

ON MANY LEVELS, it's no different than any other rodeo. The animals smell the same, the rules and regulations are the same, and there's a petting zoo for the kids.

But there are a few differences.

For one, "The boys kiss, the girls kiss, and we all dance," sums up rodeo director Craig Rouse.

And then there's the fact that the opening procession features two drag queens perched in convertibles, waving to the crowd in the stands. ("Go around one more time," Sheba!, aka David Lyle Carver, tells her driver.)

Welcome to the gay rodeo, held last weekend at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds and put on by the Bay Area chapter of the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association.

For the eighth year in a row, it wasn't just the horses that kicked up their heels.

While it had the same events as most other rodeos, like bull riding, bareback bronco riding and barrel racing, all the events were open to both men and women.

And then there were the so-called camp events, where contestants don't need to know how to strap themselves to a big piece of livestock.

Take, for example, the steer decorating competition, where a team of two tries to tie a ribbon to a steer's tail. There's also the wild drag race, where a man and a woman must mount a person in drag on a steer's back and get the drag queen and steer across the finish line.

But by far the most popular event is goat dressing, which, in spite of the gay rodeo's tough stance on animal cruelty, can't do any much for a goat's self-esteem: teams of two race the clock to get a pair of jockey shorts onto a goat tied to a stake.

Currently, there are four gay rodeos in California, part of a thriving 27-rodeo circuit of gay rodeos held in the U.S. and Canada. The circuit began in Reno in 1975 as a fundraiser for muscular dystrophy research. By the mid-1980s, the idea had caught on in major metropolitan areas, like Los Angeles and San Diego, which now sport the two biggest gay rodeos in the state. Sacramento is set to get its first one in August.

The gay rodeo world has grown into a professional circuit that attracts serious competitors. Some of them also ride in straight rodeos, with their sexual orientation unmentioned. Sometimes, they ride under an assumed name.

David Renier, a professional cowpoke from San Diego, holds a day job as a psychological counselor, but he still manages to make the rounds on the gay rodeo circuit every year.

Renier, a rodeo contestant who can average $25,000 a year in prize money, took home the top prize in May at the L.A. Gay Rodeo as All Around Cowboy. As in straight rodeo, the title goes to the contestant with the most points in all events when the rodeo closes.

"The all-around title is one of the more revered," says Matt Bowers, rodeo director for the inaugural Sacramento event. "It goes back to the Old West, with ranch hands who were proficient in multiple skills needed for ranch work."

Bowers, an Internet consultant from Modesto, didn't participate in putting on the San Jose rodeo this year, but he is working behind the scenes and taking notes for his own rodeo, which kicks off Aug. 20.

San Jose's rodeo was sponsored by Bud Light, whose name and logo appeared everywhere: the little flags flapping along the top of the stands, the numbers pinned on contestants' backs, on the barrels out in the field, and, of course, behind the bar.

The sponsor roundup is one of the things Bowers is working on before his own rodeo starts. It's hard, but it's getting easier, which he says is one of the indicators that public attitudes are changing.

"The alternative lifestyle market is a new thing for some of the sponsors," he says. "But it's a very valuable market, and they're just now realizing that."

For organizers like Bowers, the whole point of the rodeos is to open up some minds and have fun doing it.

"Rodeo and gay don't necessarily go together," Bowers says. "It's a very phobic sport. There's a certain amount of homophobia regardless, and if you couple that with the relatively masculine sport of rodeo, it breaks a lot of stereotypes."

"In the gay community, it's more of a festival than a sport, but that's a key difference," Bowers says.

Web: www.igra.com and www.gsgra.org

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From the June 24-30, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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