Preferring Johnny Cash and suede fringe over the Village People and rainbow wear, Denver's gay cowboys and cowgirls are mounting up to celebrate the twentieth year of the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association (CGRA) during the Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo, held this weekend at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.
For those who've never heard of a gay rodeo, the first one was held in Reno, Nevada, in 1976. Colorado's gay cowboys got organized a few years later, and on June 3, 1983, Denver became the second city in the United States to stage a gay rodeo. Participants wore T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Colorado Rides With Pride." The CGRA established its headquarters in Denver and became a member of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), an umbrella organization that oversees twenty regional Gay Rodeo Associations across the United States and Canada.
The group puts on all of the regular rodeo events, such as barrel-racing, bull-riding, bareback bronc-riding and team roping, but definitely spices things up a bit with three special events: goat dressing, steer decorating and a wild drag race. And no, they don't dress the goats up in drag -- just jockey underwear. "We do all of the standard straight rodeo events, but we have 'camp events,' as well," explains David Westman, the CGRA's public-relations chairman. "The first time I tried steer decorating, my friend told me the safest place to be was behind the steer. I learned the hard way that steers can kick backwards." The reigning Mr. CGRA, Westman performed his trick-roping routine to bring home the talent portion of the contest. "It's kind of a lost art, but it was popular in the Old West days."
The festivities kick off with a free Friday-night party at Charlie's, a predominantly gay country-and-Western bar at 900 East Colfax Avenue, with music by Brett Maverick and the Stallions. Gay-rodeo royalty from around the country will hold court in sashes and crowns. "We all have a rodeo king, queen and another queen," says Westman.
There are a few other differences between straight rodeo and gay rodeo. The main one is that, in the latter, both men and women can compete in all events. "We don't discriminate on the basis of sex, in anything," says Westman. The CGRA also donates a large portion of the rodeo's proceeds to local organizations like the AIDS unit at Children's Hospital and GLBT services at Metro State College. Last year they rustled up $20,000. "I don't think a lot of straight rodeos donate any money to charity," says Westman. "It's a tradition for us; we just like to raise money for good causes."
The rodeo, which offers thirteen separate events, starts at noon on Saturday and Sunday with the Grand Entry parade. There's other entertainment, too, including drag-queen performances in the fairground's big-top tent, as well as vendors of Western paraphernalia, food and beer. On Saturday night, Lannie Garrett will do her bit performing as Patsy DeCline, and the weekend closes with a buffet dinner at the Sheraton Denver West. A highlight is the Pearlie May Big Pearl Award, which is given to the cowboy with the best drag-queen costume.
This summer, the CGRA is gearing up for a much larger crowd than the 1,800 attendees it saw last year. "Everybody wants to be here for the twentieth," says Westman, stressing that the event is open to all. "We get a really mixed crowd, a lot of families. Gay rodeo is always a good time."