Many of us in the gay community are familiar with the “Imperial Court” system that exists in many larger cities around the country. The idea for a “gay rodeo” originated with Phil Ragsdale in 1975. As the “Court Emperor” of Reno, Nevada, Ragsdale decided to raise money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association by means of a gay rodeo. The first available date at the Washoe County Fairgrounds was October 2nd, 1976, and Ragsdale began planning at once. At first, he was not able to find any farmers or ranchers willing to lease livestock for a gay rodeo, but eventually the animals were secured and the rodeo went on as scheduled. There were not very many contestants or spectators that first year, but Ragsdale decided to keep it as an annual event. The event became known as the National Reno Gay Rodeo and every year thousands of dollars were raised for Muscular Dystrophy through competition of the titles of Mr., Ms., and Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo.
In 1981, an energetic group of Texas contestants attended the Reno rodeo. During the weekend, Miss Texas bumped into Wayne Jakino of Denver, Colorado. “She” ridiculed Wayne because of the small representation from Colorado, and Wayne vowed that the next year his state would show up in force. One-month later Wayne, Ron Jesser, and seven other men formed the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association (CGRA).
When Colorado returned to the 1982 National Reno Gay Rodeo they were 400 strong, including a mounted drill team and some 43 contestants. Comedienne Joan Rivers was the Grand Marshall that year, and there were over 10,000 spectators in the grandstands. The contestants from Colorado gained support from other contestants to push for uniform rules in order to improve the quality of the rodeo.
That following winter, a group from Colorado traveled to Houston to encourage the formation of the Texas Gay Rodeo Association (TGRA) and a rodeo in that part of the country. Texas promised to support Colorado if they would lead the way with their own rodeo. On June 3rd, 1983, Denver became the second city in the U.S. to host a gay rodeo. Many contestants came from Texas and California to the first Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo, only to experience torrential rain throughout the weekend. But the rodeo went on anyway! They had all been through too much to let a little water stop the festivities. In late June, the TGRA was formed and scheduled their first rodeo for the following year. The Eighth National Reno Gay Rodeo was held in August with the largest number of gay dance groups ever assembled at a rodeo and the grandstands filled with over 12,000 people.
In 1984 the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association (GSGRA) was formed in California. That was also the year of the Ninth Annual National Reno Gay Rodeo, which was the last rodeo held in that city due to financial difficulties. In November of that year, Texas held their first rodeo a few miles outside of Houston and in December, the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA) was organized in Phoenix.
In March of 1985, gay rodeo moved to the West Coast as GSGRA hosted their first rodeo at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. The rodeo organizations from Colorado, Texas, California, and Arizona decided that it was time to have more uniformity in their rodeos and scheduled a convention in order to standardize rules and objectives of their associations. In September, the convention was held in Denver, where the Oklahoma Gay Rodeo Association (OGRA) was seated as the fifth Member Association, the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) was formed, and Jakino was elected as the Founding President.
IGRA continued to expand in 1986 with repeat rodeos in Colorado, Texas, and California as well as two new rodeo locations in Phoenix and Oklahoma City. Jakino served his second term as IGRA President and Denver was again the location for IGRA’s second convention where three new Member Associations were seated: Kansas (KGRA), Missouri (MGRA), and New Mexico (NMGRA).
In 1987 Les Krambeal (OGRA) began serving as IGRA’s second President. At the IGRA Annual Convention in Albuquerque, the Silver State Gay Rodeo Association (SSGRA) from Nevada was seated as the newest Member Association. Many new contestants decided to compete that year and several of the rodeos lasted up to twelve hours each day. As a result of these lengthy rodeos, it was decided to split the Member Associations into two geographical areas. Division I consisted of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada while Division II consisted of Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri. This split would place three rodeos in each region with approximately half the number of contestants competing in each.
This was also the first year that a Country/Western dance competition was held during the IGRA Annual Convention. Several gay country bars around the country organized it and it proved to be popular evening entertainment. The convention delegates voted to add the dance competition as an annual convention event. This was also the year for IGRA’s first International Finals Rodeo which was held in Hayward, California, near San Francisco. The IGRA Finals Rodeo brought the top contestants from throughout the year to compete for each Event Championship buckle as well as the titles of All-Around Cowboy and All-Around Cowgirl.
Krambeal began his second term as IGRA President in 1988 and the six divisional rodeos were all very successful that year. At the fourth IGRA Annual Convention in Fort Worth, two more Member Associations were seated. They were Oregon and Wyoming as the tenth and eleventh members of IGRA. The 2nd IGRA Finals Rodeo, which had been scheduled for Reno, did not take place. Originally scheduled for the Lawler Events Center, the contract was canceled and court action to force the center to perform was not successful.
A contract with a private ranch sixty miles east of Reno was made void when the local homophobic District Attorney filed an injunction two days before the rodeo in order to stop the event. Two days in court as well as a trip to the Nevada Supreme Court failed to overturn the injunction. Many people canceled their trips when word got out about the possibility that the rodeo would not happen. More than 100 contestants and 600 spectators who did arrive found themselves only to attend the evening parties. IGRA officers referred to the bylaws and awarded two sets of Event Championship buckles and All-Around Champion buckles to the top point contestants throughout the year from each of the two rodeo divisions.
In 1989, Division I added one more rodeo to the circuit. The Greater San Diego Rodeo brought the total number of divisional rodeos to seven. Gerald Ford began serving as the third President of IGRA. The 5th IGRA Annual Convention returned to Albuquerque that year where two more associations joined IGRA. They were Montana’s Big Sky (BSGRA) and Utah (UGRA). Early in the rodeo year, Ford found it necessary to resign from the presidency because of increased personal business obligations. The IGRA Board of Directors appointed Linn Copeland (KGRA) for the remainder of the year. The 3rd IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Phoenix as scheduled and was very successful.
The year of 1990 was one of tremendous growth for IGRA. Copeland began her second term as IGRA President and the IGRA Annual Convention was held in Wichita where four new Member Associations were seated. Northwest (NWGRA) representing Washington, Oregon, and Idaho; North Star (NSGRA) representing Minnesota and Wisconsin; Tri-State (TSGRA) representing Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky; and Diamond State (DSRA) representing Arkansas were added to the IGRA family. This was also the second year in a row that the IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Phoenix and it turned out to be another very crowded event.
In 1991 Bob Pimentel (NMGRA) began his first term as the fifth President of IGRA. The 7th IGRA Annual Convention was again held in Albuquerque where two more associations joined IGRA. They were the Atlantic States (ASGRA) representing Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. and the Southeast (SEGRA) representing the state of Georgia. New rodeo locations were approved for Colorado Springs, San Francisco, Tucson, and Washington, D.C. IGRA then split the rodeo circuit into three divisions with plans for a fourth division when at least one more rodeo was scheduled in the eastern part of the country. IGRA’s first International Sponsor came on board when the Miller Brewing Company agreed to have the Miller Lite brand provide support for all rodeos around the country. The 5th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Wichita.
The 1992 rodeo year was Pimentel’s second term as IGRA President. The 8th IGRA Annual Convention was held in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. The Nevada Gay Rodeo Association (NGRA) became a Member Association and the Northwest Gay Rodeo Association (NWGRA) added the Canadian Province of British Columbia to their group of three states, making IGRA a truly international organization. In October, IGRA finalized the negotiations and entered into a three-year agreement with Miller Lite to become an International Sponsor of gay rodeo. Phoenix was once again the location for the 6th IGRA Finals Rodeo.
In 1993 Roger Bergmann (GSGRA) began serving his first of three terms as IGRA’s sixth President. Billings was the site of the 9th IGRA Annual Convention where three new Member Associations were seated: Illinois (ILGRA), Heartland (HGRA) representing Nebraska, and the Alberta Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA) as the second Canadian Province to join IGRA. Three new rodeos, located in Minneapolis/St. Paul; Kansas City, and Seattle were part of the total of 15 rodeos leading up to the 7th IGRA Finals Rodeo held in Fort Worth.
The 10th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Little Rock where the Michigan International Gay Rodeo Association (MIGRA) was seated and the state of Iowa was included as a part of HGRA. Since the Alberta association’s acronym of AGRA was the same as Arizona’s, there had been considerable confusion during the past year. Alberta agreed to have their membership establish a new name for their association. Within a few months Alberta had changed their name to the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association (ARGRA). The 1994 rodeo year had four new rodeos in the United States (Palm Springs, Chicago, Little Rock, and Atlanta) and the first IGRA-sanctioned rodeo held outside of the United States (in Calgary, Alberta, Canada). Because of the additional rodeos in the eastern part of the United States, IGRA implemented the change to four rodeo divisions. For the 1994 rodeo year, there were a total of twenty rodeos leading up to the 8th IGRA Finals Rodeo in Denver.
In 1995 Bergmann began his final term as IGRA President. The Pennsylvania Gay Rodeo Association (PGRA) was seated at the 11th IGRA Annual Convention in Chicago. In this year there were 21 divisional rodeos scheduled which included one new rodeo, the Greater Motown International Rodeo in Detroit. The 9th IGRA Finals Rodeo was again held in Denver.
Minnesota’s own Tom Vance began his first term as the seventh President of IGRA at the start of the 1996 rodeo year. During that year, IGRA entered cyberspace by establishing a Web site at http://www.igra.com where you could find current information about the IGRA and all of the rodeos around the country. You could also link to Web sites for many of the IGRA Member Associations. The 12th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Omaha and the 10th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Albuquerque.
The 1997 rodeo year was the second term for Vance as IGRA President. The 13th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Salt Lake City during the last weekend of July. At this convention, only the second woman ever to be elected President hailed from Kansas, the same state where the first woman elected as President of IGRA. The 11th IGRA Finals Rodeo moved back to Phoenix during the weekend of October 23rd-26th, 1997.
The 1998 rodeo year represented Linda Frazier’s (KGRA) first term as President of IGRA. The 14th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Baltimore from July 29th-August 3rd. The 12th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Phoenix during the weekend of October 22th-25th. The year of 1998 was also the first year that IGRA eliminated using divisions for rodeo competition. All IGRA contestants competed equally for the 20 slots open in each event at the Finals Rodeo.
The 1999 rodeo year will be Frazier’s second term as IGRA President. The 15th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Long Beach, California from July 28th-August 2nd. The 13th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Little Rock October 28th-31st. The 1999 rodeo schedule welcomed a new rodeo to the circuit, the Sierra Stampede in Sacramento, California in mid-August and welcomed back the Southern Spurs Stampede (formerly the Dixieland Rodeo) in Atlanta in mid-September.
California’s own Craig Alan Rouse began his first term as the ninth President of IGRA at the start of the 2000 rodeo year. The 16th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Las Vegas from August 3rd-6th and the 14th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Albuquerque from October 19th-22nd. The 2000 rodeo schedule welcomed a new rodeo to the circuit, the Salt Lake City Rodeo from June 2nd-4th.
The 2001 rodeo year was Rouse’s second year as IGRA President. The 17th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Long Beach from July 26th-29th and the 15th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Palm Springs from October 18th-21st.
The 2002 rodeo year was Rouse’s third year as IGRA President. The 18th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Cleveland from July 25th-28th and the 16th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Wichita from October 10th-13th.
The 2003 rodeo year was Rouse’s fourth year as IGRA President. The 19th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Phoenix from July 31st-August 3rd and the 17th IGRA Finals Rodeo was held in Tulsa from October 23rd-26th.
The 2004 rodeo year was Rouse’s fifth year as IGRA President. The 20th IGRA Annual Convention was held in Denver from October 14th-19th and the 18th IGRA Finals Rodeo was in Omaha from October 14th-18th.
As with any large organization, there are losses as well as gains. Over the years Oregon, the Cowboy State (Wyoming), Silver State (Nevada), Tri-State (Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky), Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and British Columbia) and Big Sky (Montana) were not able to keep their individual members active and their organizations have since dissolved. Two of those associations were able to reorganize and become involved with IGRA. That was the state of Nevada, who joined as the Nevada Gay Rodeo Association (NGRA) and the Pacific Northwest Gay Rodeo Assocition (PNWGRA).
The International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) currently has many Member Associations representing states, the District of Columbia, and two Canadian provinces. IGRA is going strong and hopes that you will get involved with one of our Member Associations or perhaps promote the formation of a new association where IGRA is not active.