The Gay Rodeo: Cultural Landmark Or Animal Cruelty?

Don't_let_goGay or straight, do we all deserve the right to chase down a baby animal, slam it into the ground, tie it up and drag it by its neck?

It’s a cultural legacy that’s as American as genetically modified apple pie.

In addition to making sure animals get upset and afraid enough to try and throw people off of them, the rodeo can also be mighty homophobic. Which is why the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) offers a safe space for animal abuse.

The gay rodeo was also the recent subject of an episode of CNN‘s human interest show This is Life With Lisa Ling. We say “human” interest because Lisa doesn’t seem to give the animals’ lives a second thought. We don’t want to go full PETA on you, but the omission is worth a ponder.

In an interview with HuffPost, she further explains:

“[The gay rodeo] really has provided this incredible refuge for people who have wanted to hold on to their cowboy and cowgirl roots and hold on to that rough and tumble kind of masculinity but also live freely.”

And we definitely see both sides of it. To those gay people who feel a strong cultural connection with the rodeo, it must feel like a godsend to have an open space to be themselves.

But looking in from an outside perspective (which, OK, can be problematic), it’s hard not to see their traditions and events as being unnecessarily traumatic for the animals.

Here’s a clip from Lisa’s interview, where it’s clear the rodeo means the world to those involved:

And here’s an article from the Bay Area Reporter (a gay newspaper in California) from September of this year discussing the treatment of animals at the events. And there are lots of other articles and studies that echo it.

Could there perhaps be other ways of tapping into the “rough and tumble” masculinity without all that collateral damage?

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  • woollycwby01

    This is the ridiculous interpretation uninformed people have frequently used to tarnish the sport of rodeo – gay or straight. While throwing wild accusations about abusing baby animals might increase readership, it is nothing more that a sensationalist viewpoint.

    This article is annoying and one sided, not to mention missing facts that doing some actual research on the issue may have uncovered. Writing hateful dribble about a very respected, and long term LGBT organization that has given a tremendous amount of money back to our communities without the facts from both sides of the issue is offensive. I respect everyone’s opinion on this issue – including animal rights groups (like the one mentioned in the BAR article) – however, they also have to respect mine.

    While not speaking officially for IGRA, an organization I have been a proud member of for over 20 years – the organization takes animal abuse VERY seriously. Excerpts from our Animal Welfare policy include:

    “The International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) hereby endorses and adopts the promotion of animal welfare and the humane, responsible treatment of animals in their housing, feeding, training, exercising and competition.”

    “We Support Animal Welfare”

    “IGRA uses stock animals in the sport of rodeo. Our position is that this responsible use of stock does not rise to the level of abuse. IGRA does not abuse animals nor condone animal abuse, at any time, in any way, by anyone.”

  • LandStander

    Yes, you can find quotes of rodeo organizers saying they do not abuse animals or condone animal abuse…

    You can also find quotes of conservatives saying they do not discriminate or condone discrimination…

  • Ummmm Yeah

    It’s animal abuse.After these hetero wannabes are done torturing the animals, they almost all go to slaughter. Even the horses are shipped to slaughter under barbaric conditions in Mexico and Canada. 165,000 horses shipped out of country to death under horrifying conditions last year along. They came from rodeos, race tracks, as unwanted by products of the pharmaceutical industry, the result of over breeding for profits, American mustangs the government is wiping out to turn the land over to rich ranchers to graze their cattle and oil companies to frack public land, and due to people not being able to afford them due to the drought. In other words many of them dies because people are cruel, greedy and selfish.

  • jorgecruz

    The rodeo circuit is a way for many gay and lesbian people that live in more conservative, rural areas to get together. People are able to meet others from across the country with similar interests. Many of these people work on farms or ranches. Many bring their own horses, which they dutifully tend to every day. Before you pass judgment, go to a gay rodeo event. You can clearly see the animals aren’t harmed. If you are against this, you just don’t believe that animals should be treated differently than humans.
    The article fails to mention the thousands and thousands of dollars that the contestants raise to support charities in the host cities.
    And to umm yeah, if we want heterosexuals to stop calling people “gay” as a form of insult, don’t call gay people “hetero wannabes” as a form of insult. Unfortunately you have more respect for animals than you do for gays and lesbians.
    Now I am going to put on my leather jacket and go get a hamburger.

  • Alan down in Florida

    Either you consider rodeo animal abuse or not. Whether it is gay or straight is irrelevant because there’s no difference between the two other than the sexual orientation of the participants. How the animals are treated is the same in both.

  • cleverusername

    “American as genetically modified apple pie.” You people who think genetically modified foods are an American thing make me laugh because you’re stupid.

  • Eric Mills

    @woollycwby01: You find the rticle “annoying and one-sided”? The same could be said of rodeo. For the IGRA to claim, as you say, that it “Supports Animal Welfare” and “endorses the promotion of animal welfare and the humane treatment of animals in competition,” makes a joke of the English language. Does not compute.

    EVERY major animal welfare organization in North America condemns rodeos of all stripes for their inherent cruelty: Humane Society of the U.S., ASPCA, American Humane, et al. Even Cesar Chavez was an outspoken critic of rodeos. George Carlin, too. We ran the Gay Rodeo out of San Francisco years ago. Others should follow suit.

    As a gay man, I find it both sad and ironic that gay people, of all people,in light of our centuries of oppression and disenfranchisement, should choose to pass the abuse along to innocent farm animals. Even when the animals are not injured (which they frequently are), their stress and fear should be enough reason not to submit them to this abuse. For most, rodeo is merely a detour en route to the slaughterhouse. Must we abuse them before we eat them? As Grandma said, “Don’t play with your food.”

    Hell, many of the two-legged participants don’t even know how to ride a horse! Hence such silly non-rodeo events as “chute dogging,” “goat tying,” “steer dressing,” and my favorite, the “wild cow drag.”

    Gay people are notoriously creative. Surely we can come up with more compassionate and life-affirming ways to celebrate so-called “western culture” than rodeo. The animals (and we) deserve better.



    Eric Mills, coordinator
    Oakland, CA

  • LGBTcompassionDotOrg

    @woollycwby01: While we’re quoting IGRA,here are some excerpts from its internal documents that hint at the actual reality of its treatment of animals http://lgbtcompassion.org/gayrodeo/convention.htm:

    “NMGRA, Zia Regional Rodeo – Lost horn sheath in Team Roping. The sheath was recovered and reattached by the vet on duty at the rodeo, given antibiotics.” [Note: this must feel similar to having all of your fingernails ripped off, as there’s a layer of soft tissue between the horn structure and the outer sheath]

    “NMGRA, Zia Regional Rodeo – In an attempt to bring calves with no horns, the stock contractor brought calves in of two different sizes. These were broken up into to groups to be used in different events but the quantity not adequate for either event resulting in stressed animals.”

    “Smaller animals that were used collapsed or performed poorly under the weight of many contestants – can become a PETA / public perception issue”

    “Hot shots [painful electric prods] were used in accordance with IGRA guidelines in the FL, AB, and OK rodeos [SIC]. The stock contractors were reminded of our rules and corrected their handling of the stock.”

    “Animal Injury Reports – These were only filed for the Zia Regional Rodeo. The report needs to filled out whenever there is an injury reported.”

    “This year, Chute Dogging has become an issue in the American west and Canada. Media Relations Chairman Brian Helander spoke with us about a proposal in Rodeo Rules that has been discussed for some time to address these concerns. The Rodeo Rule as written was thoroughly discussed and will be clarified in Rodeo Rules. While the rule to make a dog fall a disqualifying event] was not supported as written, the concept to address the animal issue was referred to Rodeo Rules for adjustment.” [Note: “dog fall” is when a steer’s legs fall opposite to his head when he’s slammed to the ground by having his head violently twisted. It’s very dangerous (a steer recently died in a Canadian rodeo from it). Most rodeos disqualify contestant for that, but IGRA does not.]

    “Discussed problems of stock contractors that have brought goats to rodeos that do not meet IGRA requirements. Currently this a $50 fine that some stock contractors would rather pay than to bring the correct stock.”

  • LGBTcompassionDotOrg

    The cruelty inherent in Gay Rodeo is obvious and severe. Frightened and stressed animals trucked to unfamiliar places are forced to perform by methods of violence and fear (bucking straps cinched tightly around groins, painful spurs digging into sides, electric shocks, chased by huge animals, roped, tails pulled), subjected to physical dangers (Mercy for Animals witness a steer killed at a MN Gay Rodeo, and IGRA’s internal documents report a NM calf’s horn sheath ripped off among other animal injuries) and are jeered at and ridiculed (e.g. underwear on baby goats) – just for our “entertainment” and for money.

    Most of these activities would be illegal if they were done to dogs or cats. The reasons for this are parallel to the reasons some people believe (or have historically believed) that it’s OK to abuse certain groups of humans based on the bodies or situation they’re born into, or if they can personally gain from the abuse.

    As a compassionate gay man, I’m very disturbed that a few in our community have not learned from their own experiences of abuse, bullying, and oppression, and have decided to turn around and commit the same atrocities to other. We should instead instead want to be the voices for those who, unlike us, cannot speak for themselves, or defend themselves.

    Fortunately, IGRA and rodeo participants report that attendance is dwindling, and that younger people are not interested, and that they have difficulty recruiting from “women’s groups” (who tend to be more aware of animal cruelty). In recent year, sponsors have been dwindling, and “beneficiaries” have withdrawn. With the increase in awareness of cruelty and deaths associated with animals used for “entertainment” (thanks in part to “Blackfish), barbaric practices like rodeo will soon be going the way of other social injustices and just be another embarrassing part of our history.

    For more information and the cruelty (and other problems) with Gay Rodeo, please visit http://www.LGBTcompassion.org/gayrodeo.

    Also, this video shows a rodeo representative being honest about his attitude toward animals, as well as e video clips clearly showing the cruelty: http://youtu.be/__7eNtKz61g

    From all of us LGBTs (and others) who work hard to protect animals from cruelty, and from the animals, please don’t support or attend rodeo — and please share with your friends.

  • LGBTcompassionDotOrg

    @jorgecruz: We don’t have to directly witness abuse for it to exist – and video footage alone from Gay Rodeos (including Lisa Ling’s show) make it very obvious: http://youtu.be/__7eNtKz61g

    I would be pretty sure that you would not allow your dog to be treated this way (though I’ve had rodeo people tell me that they do, which is even more disturbing). So, does that mean that you believe that it’s OK to be cruel to certain individuals, based only on the bodies or situations they’ve been born into, or if you can be entertained or personally benefit from it? As a gay person who has dealt with oppression and bullying, does that sound familiar at all?

    The “charity” claim is a marketing sham, and also is no excuse for cruelty. The Bay Area Gay Rodeo only donated an average of 7% of its gross revenue from 2006-2010 (according to its IRS Form 990 filings), and some of that was to other rodeos. It spends about $30,000 on “contestant expenses” – could that include tax-free perks? By contrast, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence donates about 50% of its revenue, and doesn’t abuse animals (except for the unfortunate choice of a few Sisters lacking compassion who attend the rodeo).

    Planned “beneficiaries” (Paws & Hearts Pet-Assisted Therapy in Palm Springs and Cover Your K-9 in San Francisco) have recently withdrawn. It makes it even more difficult to donate when charities don’t want their “blood money.”

    Also, the Bay Area Gay Rodeo has become so desperate for corporate sponsorship, they were falsely listing Starbucks and Safeway as sponsors. Once this was reported, the corporations instructed them to cease using their names and logos. Now they seem to be left with only alcohol companies, taking advantage of the high substance abuse rates among LGBTs.

  • Chris

    This article’s exclusive focus on gay rodeo misses the point: anything involving animals within gay rodeo should be set in the context of ALL rodeo, not just those within which a very large number of gay and lesbian folk find community.

    I, for one, am opposed to gratuitous forms of animal abuse wherein their sole purpose is to amuse us. On those grounds, I’m opposed to circuses, aquariums that showcase large mammals and fish that require massive areas in which to roam, and even most zoos. However, until the larger classes of animal abuse become illegal, I refuse to get drawn into any debate about GLBT folk in the rodeo.

  • Mykaels

    You just cannot win. Do a piece on promoting and supporting gay marriage, and promiscuous gays get mad. Do a piece on a gay owned restaurant, and gay PETA’s (or PITAS in my opinion) will be pisst about the restaurant serving beef. Do a piece on a gay couple adopting a child, and gay activists will gripe that one of the child is/isn’t black. Sheesh.

    As for the topic covered (instead of griping about what is not covered), I think one of the most tremendous things about IGRA is gender inclusion. Not only can women bull ride, but they ride the same bulls as the men. Specifications are not “watered down” due to “gentler, weaker genders”. When a woman beats a man, its not because the bar was lowered, its because she really was better than the man, on equal ground. I love it!

  • E T

    @Mykaels: Promiscuous gays? Gay PETA’s? Griping that one child isn’t black? I’ve never witnessed any of this, but I have heard conservatives throw it around with a sort of manic contempt. Not loving the shot at “PITAS.” It’s the 21st century, and you have the internet. Read up on PETA, if you apparently have such a problem with it. Accept the things that you agree with and discard the things that you don’t, and move on. I don’t like every organization out there, but if people are passionate about something, there’s usually something to be gained from it. No harm comes from treating animals with respect, and sometimes traditions and cultural norms prevent you from recognizing the ways that you cause unnecessary harm. Humans being flawed, these organizations will also get things wrong probably due to the biases of their members. I just have trouble dealing with the kneejerk reaction to spit on organizations that really do try to take some violence out of the world. This world can be insanely cruel when you take accountability out of the picture altogether. But, PETA has no power over you, so there’s no reason to hate.

  • jorgecruz

    Honestly i don’t care if animals rights activists like rodeos. If all you see when you look at the gay rodeo is a goat being chased, then you have no idea what the gay rodeos are about.

    As for this being a charity scam, this isn’t the aids bike rides of the 90’s. The drag and court contestants all raise money as part of their campaigns and 100% of the money they raise goes to charities.

    Any charity that turns down even $1 because they don’t like where it came from isn’t truly interested in saving the most animals possible. If the rodeo donation would house another 50 dogs, you are telling me you would rather have those dogs get euthanized because of lack of funding than take the rodeos “blood money”. Who is the true abuser in that scenario?

    Based on the comments from the animal rights activists, people that participate in rodeos not only abuse animals, they are drunks, drug abusers, tax cheats, are destroying the environment and are promiscuous. Jeez good thing you don’t exaggerate or attack people that disagree with your point of view.
    i tried discussing the effects of fracking on the water table with my dog, but he just licked his balls and pooped in the yard.

  • tdx3fan

    I for one cannot stand hardcore animal right’s activist. Stock animals are raised for slaughter. Its simply that simple. The best we can hope for is they are treated the best possible way by their owners. Make no doubt about it, the fact that these animals are used in rodeo is the only thing prolonging their life. Steers are normally killed the moment they reach max weight. Animals are here for our amusement not the other way around.

  • tdx3fan

    @jorgecruz: Meanwhile they totally overlook the level of stupidity in their own organizations. PETA does not exactly have very clean hands. The Human Society of America does very little to prevent animal cruelty or look out for animal welfare, but they still pay their CEO pretty damn well. Local organizations also have blood on their hands… such as no kill shelters that only kill animals that do not pass temperament testing that involves being around children and the elderly (because all animals everywhere will always be exposed to children and elderly). In the end, these organizations need to just shut up about how other people treat animals because they are absolutely no better…. unless of course its pure on animal abuse (such as not providing basic fundamentals of life or purposefully torturing animals).

  • LGBTcompassionDotOrg

    @tdx3fan: A couple hundred years ago you would have made almost the same statement, substituting “slaves” for “stock animals.” This is the 21st Century, and it’s time for all of us to move past this barbaric and cruel way of thinking.

    If you really think certain beings deserve to be abused based on the bodies or situations they were born into, and whether more-powerful humans can be entertained or self-gain from it, then you must support the discrimination, abuse and bullying of LGBTs.

    The animals cannot tell you if they prefer to have their lives extended only to be abused and tormented — but that’s very unlikely. So compassionate humans have to be their voices — and their abusers don’t have the power to bully us into submission.

  • jorgecruz

    You just equated the fight to end slavery with the fight to stop people from riding steers. Enough said.

  • joearevalo

    Which ever side of the rodeo fence you’re on, here’s a little history about the original (Reno)Gay Rodeo: http://queeressay.blogspot.de/

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