Rhinestone Cowboys: Gay Rodeos and Queer Community Building in America, 1976 to the Present

Sunday, January 5, 2020: 1:50 PM
Regent Room (New York Hilton)
Justin Salgado, Texas Tech University
Juxtaposing the American cowboy with the competitive nature of sport, American rodeos serve as a stage for people in the United States to showcase their talents regarding ranching and livestock events. Since the nineteenth century, rodeos across America help perpetuate the stereotype of the American cowboy: masculine, adventurous, plaid-wearing, and pointedly straight. However, with the rise of the Gay Liberation Movement in the late twentieth century, coupled with the increasing rates of homophobia against queer rodeo participants, a new form of freedom of expression hit the arena in the form of gay rodeos in 1976. Indeed, following the grassroots nature that promoted the creation of rodeos among the American west, gay rodeos maintain the grassroot nature of the sport while advocating for the free and safe expression of queer gender and sexual identities. Using a collection of oral interviews, flyers, and pamphlets maintained by the International Gay Rodeo Association, this paper argues that gay rodeos are imagined as a form of resistance by queer cowboys against the prejudices found in the various “straight” rodeo circuits. Even so, the gay rodeo participants maintained the American cowboy stereotype while promoting equality and inclusivity. This paper, “Rhinestone Cowboys” goes beyond the fog ridden city of San Francisco and the never-sleeping city of New York to produce a history that concentrates on rural America and the story of queer community building within the rodeo arenas.