Alabama's Quest for Gay Rodeo
More than 100 people gathered in a large arena in Fort Worth, TX to watch and compete in what was called a "traditional" rodeo. However, the term traditional may depend on your point of view. The event is a gay rodeo. It's like a traditional rodeo with bull riding and calf roping, but it's open to the LGBT community. John Beck of Denver is an expert on the gay rodeo. He's hard to miss with his large, red feather on his cowboy hat.
"That's been my signature for close to ten years," he says.
Beck is known as the Grandfather of the Gay Rodeo and is one of the oldest competitors on the circuit. He rode in straight rodeos too, but says the atmosphere of a gay rodeo is more welcoming.
"We work together better than in straight rodeos," says Beck. "Straight rodeos, I hate to say, is more of a cut throat type business. We're out here for camaraderie and fun and give the people who win a pat on the back. You don't find that in other rodeos."
Even though gay rodeos aren't as competitive as their traditional counterparts, Beck says they're just as dangerous.
"I've had five ribs broken, both collar bones, both legs, one ankle. It doesn't bother me."
On the other side of the arena is a woman who's also made a name for herself on the rodeo circuit. Lisa LeAnn Dalton of Fort Worth, TX is just above 5 ft. tall with short blonde hair and blue eyes. She's dressed the part of a rodeo competitor with a black cowgirl hat and a championship buckle. But she's not competing today. Five years ago, she had a bad accident in the arena that took her off the circuit.
"I broke C5 and C6 and damaged my spinal cord and was paralyzed completely from the shoulders down. It's been almost five years, but I can walk now."
Dalton competed in gay rodeos for about five years before the accident and made her name riding bareback broncs. Among her other prizes, Dalton won the national rodeos twice. But Dalton isn't gay. She's straight, but she prefers gay rodeos because there are no gender restrictions. In traditional rodeos, women can hold the reins with both hands. That didn't work for Dalton.
"I rode one-handed so I technically could ride in any rodeo and then I could qualify for and compete against the guys, but not all of them were interested in having girls so I was turned down some."
Dalton says of the rodeos she competed in, gay rodeos were the funnest. But some of that fun has gone away now that she's restricted to the sidelines.
"I love to come back and see all my friends but it's a bummer because it's not fun watching for me. I'd much rather competing," says Dalton.
Music starts to blare in the arena and the crowd roars as chutes open for one of the most popular events-bull riding. Competitor Russell Schnitz of Gonzales, TX hangs on tight to his bull. But he doesn't stay on long. He hits the dirt and barely gets out from under the bull. He has a bad scrape on his left cheek.
"I almost got him covered. Right at the buzzer I bucked off him and fell under him. He stepped on my face. And that was that," says Schnitz, who is still slightly shaken by the incident. He's been competing for 15 years and it's taken a toll on him.
"I used to do every single event, but now that I am older, I just do a few. Today was the first day I rode the tough bulls in a long time. I usually just ride the smaller ones because I'm too old to be hurt and my friends talked me into the regular ones today."
Schnitz, Dalton, and Beck have been competing in gay rodeo circuits for years in states like Texas and Colorado. But not in Alabama. That's because there isn't a gay rodeo here yet. A man in Birmingham wants to change that. Rick Vaughn is president of the Cotton States Gay Rodeo Association in Birmingham.
"I just felt it was a very positive thing for the gay community. And to show the rest of the world that we do things like everybody else does."
Vaughn says he wants to be seated by the International Gay Rodeo Association, or IGRA, by November. He wants to hold Alabama's first gay rodeo by 2014.