Bareback Broncing at The Gay Rodeo

Instead of a flashy, camp extravaganza, The Gay Rodeo is a more thoughtful, tight-knit affair with deep roots that go back to when athletes were routinely discriminated against. The rodeo has bull riding, steer wrangling, and a drag pageant.

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Mar 27 2016, 1:00pm

As a documentary photographer, I'm constantly trying to capture the subcultures and communities that surround me. While I had heard of the gay rodeo I had no idea what the actual event was like, particularly since most of the cowboy milieu is so rigidly heteronormative.

The first gay rodeo took place in Reno Nevada in 1976. Over the past 40 years, it has evolved into a national circuit with rodeos held each year in states like Texas, Colorado, Nevada, California, Arizona as well as in Canada. A history of rejection and discrimination against competitors has formed a tight-knit, diverse community of rodeo athletes and supporters across the U.S. and Canada.

The International Gay Rodeo Association was started in 1985 and is open to competitors of any gender or sexuality. Rodeo events include rough stock, steer riding, bull riding, chute dogging, calf roping, goat dressing, and royalty competitions. Royalty competitions work like pageants with the winners earning sashes in one of four categories: Mr. (male that presents as male), Ms. (female that presents as female), Miss (male that presents as female), and MsTer (female that presents as male).

I imagined the rodeo to be loud, flamboyant, and kitschy. What I found was a more thoughtful tone to the event that was structured and run by its own community members. Bartenders, announcers, ranch hands, and volunteers were all part of a larger gay community that was local to each region of the circuit.Almost everyone that came out to the event knew one another. Some have been coming out to these events since they originated in the 70s. There was a strong sense of family that clearly went beyond each ranch.