For Terry Toney of Venice, California’s first-ever gay rodeo Saturday at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Griffith Park provided a fledgling bronc-rider the opportunity to play Marlboro Man for a day.
“It’s the romantic idea of what cowboys and the West mean--the manliness of being a cowboy, the heroism,” said Toney, participating in his first rodeo in four years. ‘It’s macho. It’s a sex symbol.”
For Lisa Freeman of San Angelo, Tex., the rodeo gave a small-town girl a chance to abandon pretentions.
“In Texas, you’re not ‘out of the closet,’ ” said Freeman, an accomplished bronc rider. “You take guys with you and play the game. It’s so nice to be in California where you can be yourself.”
Vie for Cash Prizes
About 50 cowboys and cowgirls from seven states are participating in the three-day event, which concludes this afternoon with cash prizes in 13 categories, including calf roping, wild cow riding, steer decorating, wild cow milking and bull riding.
Although the event was not limited to homosexuals, most participants and spectators were gay, according to organizers, who expected the weekend attendance to top 10,000.
Saturday’s grand marshal was Valerie Terrigno, the mayor of the recently incorporated City of West Hollywood, who was paraded around the arena in a horse-drawn buggy to the cheers of the audience. Today’s featured celebrity will be Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs.
More Events Planned
Although new to California, gay rodeos have been staged for 10 years in Reno. More recently, similar events have been held in Denver and Houston.
Al Bell, who owns Floyds, a gay country and western bar in Long Beach, has been working for three years to bring the event to California and was responsible for organizing the Golden State Gay Rodeo Assn., the nonprofit group that sponsored the rodeo. The association plans to hold a rodeo each year in different cities throughout California.
“People can’t participate in the regular rodeo circuit and be openly gay because of blatant discrimination,” Bell said. ‘It’s the macho image that’s offended by a man who can roughride and be gay.”
Bob Stark, one of 150 country-western dancers who performed at dance festivals Friday and Saturday night at the equestrian center, described the heterosexual rodeo community as “very red-neck. There’s a real Archie Bunker mentality.”
Added Toney: “It’s one of the last areas of our culture that would ever accept homosexuality.”
Stark said the rodeo provides an opportunity for gay men and women to participate with kindred spirits in an event “that isn’t bar related.”
“It isn’t any of the sleazy part of being gay,” Stark said. “It’s wholesome and it’s a daytime event.”
Indeed, the spectator stands of the outdoor arena were dotted with red-checkered shirts, bandannas, faded blue jeans, boots and cowboy hats. A country and western band played an assortment of down-home tunes.
First Time for Most
And although the events and rules were the same as would be found at any other rodeo, many of the contestants were first-time rodeo participants, lending the event a certain degree of unpredictability. Contestants in only two events, wild bull riding and bareback bronc riding, were required to have previous rodeo experience.
The greatest crowd-pleasing event was wild cow milking, a timed competition that pits a cow that has refused to nurse her calf against two contestants on horseback. One rider tries to rope the cow while the other dismounts and attempts to squeeze a bottle of milk from her and then run to the judge’s stand before the other competitors can.
The participants, who included only a few women, said gay rodeos are not as fiercely competitive as others, a conclusion that was supported by shouts of encouragement from competitors and a rush of cowboys into the arena to assist a fallen rider.
Yearn to Return
Some urban cowboys, like Toney, said they grew up in rural areas and yearn to return to country living but find it difficult to be accepted back home as homosexuals.
“It’s a gay man’s fantasy to come to a metropolitan area, meet someone and move back, so he doesn’t have to be the only one,” Toney said. “There’s just something about country living that you never get out of your blood.”