Julia WeeksComment

Gay rodeo draws cowboys, drag queens to Las Vegas

Julia WeeksComment
Gay rodeo draws cowboys, drag queens to Las Vegas

Chris Tobin leans on a fence and ices his face after riding a bull and a steer minutes apart. A pad on his helmet somehow smacked his face, leaving him with a black eye, one of the many injuries rodeo competitors are used to.

In this Sept. 24, 2017, photo, Chris Tobin holds an ice pack on his face before competing in the wild drag race event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Now, wearing a rainbow-colored tutu, wig, tank top and cowboy boots, he waits his turn to try to direct or drag a steer across a finish line with two teammates as part of a competition known as wild drag racing, a staple of this yearly event at a Las Vegas equestrian facility.

Wild drag racing isn’t a traditional rodeo event, but this isn’t an average amateur rodeo. It’s a stop on the International Gay Rodeo Association circuit.

“It’s my passion,” said Tobin, a Denver resident who marked his 10th rodeo event of the year in Sin City. “In no way was I raised as a cowboy. I’m actually from New York City, but I was introduced to it three years ago. I’ve found something that I like, and I’m going to keep going with it.”

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, Chris Tobin is thrown from a steer during the wild drag race event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Last month’s event in Las Vegas drew more than 200 spectators and 73 participants from across the U.S. The circuit’s finals are taking place this weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Circuit rodeos feature a variety of traditional events, including bull riding, bareback bronc riding, calf roping and barrel racing. But they also include a number of “camp” events that distinguish the circuit: goat dressing, in which two contestants try to slip a pair of white briefs on a goat; steer decorating, which requires two participants to tie a ribbon on a steer’s tail; and the fan-favorite wild drag racing.

Men and women can participate in all events as long as they are 18 or older.

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, competitors prepare to compete in the barrel racing event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. Unlike traditional rodeos, both men and women can compete in any of the events. (AP Photo/John Locher)

“If a female wants to ride a bull, she can ride a bull. If a man wants to ride a horse, he can ride a horse,” said Brenda Alday, Las Vegas rodeo organizer. “Gay rodeos don’t separate by gender. If you enjoy it, you should be able to do it.”

Formed in 1985, the International Gay Rodeo Association hosts several events across the U.S. raising money for charities. The group’s early days were rough, with some facilities turning it down once they learned the rodeo was for gay cowboys. This year’s calendar included stops in Phoenix; Little Rock, Arkansas; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; and San Francisco.

Individuals can participate regardless of their sexual orientation, but the circuit allows cowboys and cowgirls in the LBTQ community in particular to feel comfortable doing something they love.

“Most people don’t associate gay people with the country western lifestyle,” said Jason Dyer, a Las Vegas Strip casino dealer who helps the Nevada Gay Rodeo Association with fundraising efforts. “From what I’ve heard from the contestants, they have been looked down upon, chastised and bullied. This is a safe haven.”

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, Carla Bryant warms up before competing in the mounted break-away roping event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, Wesly Dickson, right, kisses Chris Tobin after Tobin competed at the Bighorn Rodeo, a gay rodeo, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 24, 2017, photo, Jim Applegate, left, Mr. Palms Springs Hot Rodeo, is embraced by Jimmy Warner as they watch the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, Carla Bryant, left, holds Mary Honeycutt during the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, Jason Dyer, from left, First runner up Mr. Nevada Gay Rodeo, Phat Patty CarMichael, Miss Nevada Gay Rodeo, and Brian Porras, Mr. Nevada Gay Rodeo, stand in the back of a pickup truck before the grand entry at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, competitors, some with underwear on their wrists, prepare to compete in the goat dressing event at The Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. The timed event, unique to gay rodeos, requires two contestants try to slip a pair of white briefs on a goat. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, Luke D, left, and Sammy Simpkin compete in the goat dressing event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 24, 2017, photo, Chuck Browning gets up out of the dirt after competing in the chute dogging event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 24, 2017, photo, David Lawson, center, dons gloves before competing in the wild drag race event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. The event requires two competitors to control a steer while a third, dressed in drag, must ride the animal over a finish line. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 24, 2017, photo, competitors wait to compete in the calf roping on foot event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. Circuit rodeos feature a variety of traditional events, including bull riding, bareback bronc riding, calf roping and barrel racing. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 24, 2017, photo, Phat Patty CarMichael, Miss Nevada Gay Rodeo 2017, sits on a brick to keep a goat in place during the goat dressing event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, Wade Earp competes in the barrel racing event at the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 23, 2017, photo, competitors ride horses in a warm-up area before competing in the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

In this Sept. 24, 2017, photo, two people holds hands during a break in the Bighorn Rodeo in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)


Text from the AP news story, Gay rodeo draws cowboys, drag queens to Las Vegas, by Regina Garcia Cano.

Photos by John Locher