Los Angeles Gay Rodeo

Gay CowboyBURBANK, CALIFORNIA – Being gay pushed Viktor Manoel away from the Mexican rodeoing he loved so much.
“Instead of dealing with the name-calling while I figured out who I was, I left,” said Manoel, who later became a professional dancer to defy his father.
Now, after more than 30 years, Manoel’s back in the saddle. He’ll be competing this weekend in the Los Angeles Gay Rodeo in Burbank.
“I missed what I had done as a kid,” Manoel said. “I promised myself that somehow, some way, I would do it.”
Among the largest gay rodeos in the nation, the 22nd annual event kicks off tonight with line-dancing at Oil Can Harry’s in Studio City. Rodeo competition begins Saturday morning at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.
Cowboy culture is once again hot after cooling off in the 1990s. Oil Can Harry’s, a gay bar, was down to one night of country dancing per week. But recently, cowboys and cowgirls have been packing the house Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.
After several years of declining interest, rodeo organizers anticipate attendance to as much as double last year’s 4,000.
One of the reasons: the film “Brokeback Mountain.”
It remains to be seen, however, whether the L.A. rodeo will experience the “tremendous amount of enthusiasm and excitement” caused by “Brokeback” at gay rodeos earlier this year, said Greg Brown, president of the greater Los Angeles chapter of the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association.
“You don’t associate gay and cowboy in the same breath,” Brown said. “Now here is a venue where people who are gay can come and participate comfortably.”
Take Officer John Smith of the Los Angeles Police Department. The North Hollywood cop grew up on a dairy farm in the Central Valley. His face bears the childhood scars of being dragged by his horse through barbed wire.
After breaking his back on the force, the 45-year-old Agua Dulce resident was disqualified from competing in the rodeo. But most years, he rides his horses in the grand entrance.
“Rodeo really is the ultimate extreme sport. I’ve never seen a skateboard or motorcycle coming after you after you fall off. I mean, in rodeo, you get on one of these bulls and you’ve got two tons of ticked-off pot roast,” Smith said. “But I love to watch, boy.”
The first advertised rodeo was held in 1888 in Prescott, Ariz. It was a pickup business, not much different than carnivals, for the next 20 years – a hook-em-and-hang-on, bronco-tested exhibition of bravado.
Popularity grew as regular rodeos were established throughout
the West. But gay cowboys were not accepted well through the 1960s, said Richard Rattenbury, rodeo historian at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
“What would be your obvious conclusion?” he asked rhetorically. “Prejudice.”Gay Cowboys
The gay rodeo circuit began in 1976 in Reno as a fundraiser for the senior citizens’ annual Thanksgiving Day feed. Thirty years later, it has spawned 27 gay rodeo associations that sponsor 36 rodeos nationwide for 8,000 cowboys and cowgirls.
The rodeos are not recognized by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and mainly serve as fundraisers and get-togethers for the gay community. This year’s L.A. benefactor is Life Group L.A., which assists people infected with HIV/AIDS and their families.
“You have to remember most of these people are considered amateurs,” said Christy Cotton, a Shadow Hills stuntwoman who already won best all-around woman competitor at the Phoenix and San Diego rodeos. “Most of the people have regular jobs, and this is just recreation.”
Manoel attended the L.A. rodeo last year. In the months before, he had been regularly visiting a friend who lived near the equestrian center and had stopped by the Circle K Stables. He began to ride again.
At Saddle Up L.A. in June, Manoel stopped by the calf-roping booth and met Roz Campbell. After being shown how to hook a calf, Manoel asked where he could buy a rope.
“I need it because I’m going to do the rodeo,” he said.
As vice president of the rodeo, Campbell recognized a new competitor when she saw one. She gave him the rope. Manoel began to sob.
“It brought back a floodgate of my dad and being gay and the loss of friends,” said Manoel, who plans to enter the barrel-racing and flags competitions. “Now I’m going to be able to do something I left behind because it was just too painful.”
from LA Daily News

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