Excitement buzzes in the air of a large arena in Fort Worth, TX as the loudspeakers boom with the announcer's voice. "Ladies and Gentlemen! TGRA would like to welcome you to Fort Worth, Texas!" The Texas Gay Rodeo Association is putting on its 29th gay rodeo and more than 100 people are ready to watch or compete. Excitement buzzes in the air of a large arena in Fort Worth, TX as the loudspeakers boom with the announcer's voice.
"Ladies and Gentlemen! TGRA would like to welcome you to Fort Worth, Texas!"
The Texas Gay Rodeo Association is putting on its 29th gay rodeo and more than 100 people are ready to watch or compete. The events you'd watch at a gay rodeo aren't all that different from something you'd see at a traditional rodeo. There's the calf roping contest as well as bronco busting. But there are some events you can only find at a gay rodeo. They're called camp events and they include goat dressing.
An announcer dressed in drag stands in the middle of the arena.
"If you have never seen this event, this is an event to watch, let me tell you! When you see gay men and lesbians running towards a goat and putting on underwear, it's just hilarious!"
That's right- underwear. Goat dressing is a race where teams of two run down to a goat. One person holds up the goat's legs and the other puts on the underwear. It's something to see, but the most popular camp event is Wild Drag Racing. John Beck is the Grandfather of the Gay Rodeo we met in Part One of our series. He invented Wild Drag Racing.
"Wild drag is you have your steer in the chute. The first line is the actual girl who has to hold the steer as the gate opens," explains Beck. "The second line is the male. The third line, which is sixty feet back, is a person dressed in drag. The gate opens up, they blow the whistle, the steer comes out, you got to get it past the sixty foot line, and the drag has to get on the steer and ride back it across line. And the best time wins."
Beck says the crowd goes crazy for Wild Drag Racing, and despite the costuming, seasoned competitors know it's all business in the arena.
"It's one of our most dangerous events," says Kelly Peebles of Belen, New Mexico. He's been competing for 11 years. "It's when I was most seriously injured in Calgary a few years ago. I got gored up through my chin. And it's one a lot of people participate in so it's one you really need to be concerned with your safety in that event."
We met contestant Russell Schnitz of Gonzales, TX in Part One of our series. He shares similar feelings about the event.
"I stress about that just because I'm the idiot that has to jump on and that can get kind of crazy. It's pretty fast if it works out good, but if it doesn't work out good, it can seem like you're out there killing yourself for an hour."
Contestants are very aware of the seriousness of wild drag racing, but that doesn't mean they don't have fun. Schnitz is enthusiastic about his drag costume.
"I don't really go all out because every time I've ever tried to go all out, I end up getting more hurt. So I just have this pink negligee kind of nightie thing that I have fit over the top of all my other clothes. It's probably been to a thousand rodeos and the wig that I have is the same one I had in the very beginning."
That wig that Schnitz has had in his 15 years on the circuit even has an identity.
"Her name is Career Girl because she was quite a career girl cut whenever I found her," says Schnitz. "And Career Girl and the pink nightie have probably won more money in the Wild Drag Race than anybody ever to go into the Wild Drag Race. They always give me hell every time they see me walk into the arena. They're like Ugh! That outfit again!'"
It's not just the camp events like goat dressing and Wild Drag that make gay rodeos unique. They're a 501(c) 3 organization that raises money for charities ranging from AIDS groups to women centers. But being nonprofit has its challenges. Gene Fraikes of Fort Worth, TX is in the arena's barn putting his horse, Fancy, in her stall. Fraikes is Vice President of the International Gay Rodeo Association, or IGRA. He says getting a gay rodeo up and running is all about money.
"That's where sponsorships and corporations can help because it takes a lot of seed money to put one of these on. You can make money for your charities and that's what it's all about, but to actually get it started, you need some money to pay for a stock contractor, pay for these arena until people start showing up and paying ticket prices."
That's advice Rick Vaughn in Birmingham is taking to heart. He's the President of the Cotton States Gay Rodeo Association. He wants to bring a gay rodeo to Alabama. He says his group needs to raise $600 to be seated with the IGRA and he's working on achieving 501(c) 3 status with the IRS. Vaughn says that's crucial because without it, large donations are less likely to come in.
"Right now it's basically word-of-mouth that we're just using. And using sites like Craigslist. There's other gay sites we've been on just to get the word out about us," says Vaughn.
In addition to money, Vaughn also needs to have enough members to be seated with the IGRA. Again,Gene Fraikes.
"It's simply a numbers thing. If you have, I believe it's 30 people, 20 of which have to live within your geographically defined area and then make out the application to IGRA. They recognize you as an association at that point and then at the next convention, which we have once a year, they seat them as delegates at that delegation."
As a point of clarification, IGRA officials say the minimum requirement is 20 members, 10 of which need to be in Rick Vaughn's geographical area.
So far, Vaughn has 16 members, but he's confident he'll have more than enough people when the IGRA holds its convention in Las Vegas in November. He hopes to hold Alabama's first gay rodeo by 2014.
For video taken from one of the gay rodeos, click play on the Vimeo video below: