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Missouri Gay Rodeo welcomes all this weekend to Hale Arena for Show-Me State Rodeo

Goat Dressing Show Me State Rodeo Gay Rodeo
Posted at 5:59 PM, May 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-11 13:53:19-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The cowboy hats, the oversized belt buckles, the scent of livestock — the Show-Me State Rodeo, which takes over Hale Arena on Saturday and Sunday, looks and smells like a typical rodeo.

But the amateur event, sponsored by the Missouri Gay Rodeo Association, isn’t your average rodeo.

“We’ve got everything that a normal rodeo has,” MGRA Assistant Rodeo Director Brendon Dale said. “We are an amateur rodeo. All of your events, men and women compete in all events — everything from bull riding to steer riding. We have our camp events — which is like goat dressing, putting panties on a goat or underwear on a goat — but you’ve also got pole bending and barrels, too. You get a little bit of everything.”

Historically, there hasn’t been a lot of overlap between country-and-western culture and the LGBTQ+ community, so a lot of people don’t realize the gay rodeo got its start nationally in the mid-1970s.

“We exist,” Sarah Nickels, a ranch saddle bronc rider from western Texas, said. “People just don’t realize we’re out there.”

Founded in 1986, this is the MGRA’S 26th rodeo — but you’d only know it existed if you knew someone personally involved — like International Gay Rodeo Hall of Famer Wade Earp, a distant relative of famed Wild West lawman and gambler Wyatt Earp.

“The three brothers that were at the OK Corral — Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan — we’re from Virgil Earp’s descendants,” Wade said. “Wyatt never had kids. The only time in his life he shot blanks.”

Earp won the 2011 World Gay Rodeo Finals All-Around Cowboy award. He was a three-time IGRA bareback bronc riding champion (2006, 2009, 2011) and also won steer riding (2010) and bull riding (2013) titles.

A safe space — finally

Earp spent Friday morning teaching at a rodeo school, which offers an introduction into rodeo events. He’s in his element, relaxed and eager to offer wisdom, but he still remembers the decades-long fight for gay rodeo’s acceptance.

“When the rodeo first came out, it was a safe place for gays and lesbians to come compete and not be afraid to be open and around others,” Earp said. “A lot of people that had jobs — like teachers, where there would be repercussions if they came out — they kept it quiet. A lot even used aliases to compete under. ... Before, we had to hide.”

That need for self-preservation isn’t as acute anymore as society’s views on LGBTQ+ people continue to evolve, but the gay rodeo still fills an important void for many.

“If you think back, you don’t associate gay and rodeo together,” Earp said. “A lot of us, I grew up out in the country on a farm. We had animals. That’s how we grew up. Once we came out, we thought we had to leave that (environment) because we weren’t welcome there.”

That’s not the case at a gay rodeo event, where all are welcome.

“I found it (IGRA) during COVID and waited two years to get into my first rodeo in Texas,” Nickels said. “It was a magical experience. While I’m happily out, because of the time that we’re in, I never found a community that I belonged to.”

Now, there’s no place she’d rather be.

“Finally getting out to IGRA felt like I was coming home and, after my first rodeo, I was darn near crying when I left, because it was such a big thing and I felt like I finally found my people,” Nickels said.

Fun for a good cause

Gay rodeos are volunteer events and the proceeds from events, like this weekend’s Show-Me State Rodeo, go to charity.

Earp said the first gay rodeo was staged in 1976 and raised about $300.

Now, gay rodeos from coast to coast have now raised millions for charities — including AIDS research, breast cancer research, uterine and ovarian cancer, and to support members in need of help with medical expenses.

Dale became associated with the MGRA in 2017. He is grateful that he never had to hide his love for the rodeo.

“You hear stories from people that have been doing this for 30, 40 years and they had to hide,” he said. “They didn’t get to do sponsorship, they didn’t get to be out in the community and you had to hide, so it was word of mouth on how we were actually found and people could come out to rodeos and feel protected. Most of the time, they were out at fairgrounds in the middle of nowhere in Colorado or Arizona. Now, we’re able to actually be out and get sponsorship and be in the community and have a presence. It’s come a long way, thank goodness.”

Don’t be fooled by the name, the gay rodeo is for everyone.

“You can fall into any category in the LGBTQ+, it does not matter here,” Dale said. “Whether you’re an ally or straight, it doesn’t matter. We’re going to help support you. If you want to come out and have a good time, we’ll support you.”

The rodeo, which includes 13 events, starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday with awards set to be presented at 7 p.m. on Sunday.

Make no mistake, it’s a rodeo with a flamboyant twist — with goat dressing, which involves wrestling tidy-whiteys onto a goat, and steer decorating, the tying of a ribbon on a steer’s tail.

Several groups of local bartenders are expected to participate in the goat dressing, according to Dale, but the signature event involves a three-man team wrangling a steer and getting a drag queen mounted to ride across the finish line.

“Everybody loves Wild Drag, because you get a drag queen on a steer and get across the line,” Dale said. “It’s those fun things. But we’ll be down here. Come join us.”