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Gay cowboys bring the Wild West back to Las Vegas

Gay cowboys bring the Wild West back to Las Vegas
A woman rides a junior bull during a previous World Gay Rodeo Finals event. The 2016 rodeo will be held in Las Vegas this weekend. (Frank Harrell)

Barrel racing, bull riding and roping will rule when the World Gay Rodeo Finals return to Las Vegas this weekend. And they may change attitudes about the LGBT community too.

"We are just as tough as anybody else," said Laura Scott, director of the event at South Point Hotel-Casino's equestrian center Saturday and Sunday.

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Scott said there's still a need for this gay-friendly competition, now in its 30th year.

Jerry Cunningham performs as a rodeo clown, protecting riders from dangerous bulls.
Jerry Cunningham performs as a rodeo clown, protecting riders from dangerous bulls. (Frank Harrell)

"It's because of the simple fact that people want to be who they want to be," she said. "If they are a gay cowboy, they should be allowed to express that. You cannot do that … in the straight world's rodeo."

Men and women will compete in 13 categories including traditional bull-riding showdowns and roping contests. And there's some silliness too, such as an event in which two-person teams attempt to tie ribbons around a steer's tail.

Scott said she sees the rodeo attracting more straight contestants and spectators as time passes. "It's getting more mixed as time goes by," she said.

Tickets each day cost $18.35 plus fees.

Charlie Colella avoids the poles during a competition at the World Gay Rodeo Finals.
Charlie Colella avoids the poles during a competition at the World Gay Rodeo Finals. (Frank Harrell)

This is the second year the event has been held in Las Vegas. That marks a sea change from 1988, when organizers tried to stage the rodeo in northern Nevada.

Four attempts to organize the event failed, including one in which an injunction to block the rodeo cited logistics, not sexual orientation, as the reason for denial.

"I think we're getting there," Scott said when asked about changing attitudes. "It allows people to see that we don't wear tutus when we're riding bulls."

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