RANCHO DISTRICT - In a rodeo arena draped with dozens of state and national flags, one pattern eclipsed all the others at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center on Saturday -- a banner bearing red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple horizontal stripes.
And beneath that rainbow flag, about 100 cowboys and cowgirls from throughout the United States and Canada competed in the 22nd annual Los Angeles Gay Rodeo.
The idea for gay rodeos started in Reno, Nev., about 30 years ago, as safe-haven for homosexuals from ranching and rural backgrounds, who could not necessarily be open about their sexual orientation within their mainstream communities, International Gay Rodeo Assoc. spokesman Tom Sheridan said.
"Gay rodeo provided a place for those who grew up in this atmosphere where they can be themselves," he said. "Where they didn't have to be afraid to show affection in an unsafe environment."
But once the idea started to gain momentum, an international organization took shape along with a set of codes and rules of competition that governed all association-sanctioned events, Sheridan said.
"It was a wonderful way to show people that we're more than drag queens and bull dykes," he said. "We are real people doing a real sport."
Unlike the mainstream rodeo circuit, gay rodeos allow women contestants, who traditionally can only complete in pole and barrel events, to enter all the same events as men, even steer and bull riding, Sheridan said.
"We crossover completely," he said. "We don't discriminate at all."
The gay rodeo also accepts contestants who are not homosexuals, said Tim Loveless, who competed in the chute dogging event, where a contestant tries to wrestle a steer to the ground.
"There are a number of straight people," he said. "Anybody is welcome to be here as long as they understand that we are accepting of diversity."
Though Loveless, a Sarasota, Fla., resident, did not grow up in a rural community, he was drawn to the gay rodeo's fellowship and camaraderie.
"It brings something positive to do in the gay community as opposed to going to bars and things," he said.
For Marcel Pajuelo-Schwartz, who grew up in east Texas and was a bull rider during high school, the gay rodeo atmosphere is more in line with his gay identity than the type of portrayals of homosexuals that dominate the media.
"I always criticized the pride parades because I thought, 'That's not me,'" he said. "I'm not in drag. I'm just a normal person."