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Photos: Gay rodeo contestants compete in Little Rock

For two days in April, 75 contestants competed at the International Gay Rodeo event in Little Rock, Arkansas, hoping to qualify for the IGRA 2016 finals in Las Vegas. Unlike other rodeos, all men and women are eligible to compete in any event they want, from barrel racing and bull riding, to wild drag races.

Wade Earp, 49, competes in the calf roping event at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Wade Earp, 49, competes in the calf roping event at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Arkansas, along with other Bible Belt states, has been one of the key battlegrounds for the fight for equality and legalization of same-sex marriage. It is currently one of the 13 states in the U.S. that have not legalized same-sex marriage. This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will make a decision on whether to strike the ban on gay marriage across the country, a decision that would make it legal in all 50 states.
Greg Smith, 47, prepares to wrestle a steer at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Greg Smith, 47, prepares to wrestle a steer at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Arkansas’ 2004 ban on gay marriage was invalidated twice last year temporarily by a U.S. District Court judge and a state court judge, but the state Supreme Court issued an emergency stay soon after to prevent same-sex marriages until the high court makes a decision on the state’s appeal. More than 400 marriage licenses were issued to same-sex couples within a week before the stay.
Equality t-shirts for sale at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Equality t-shirts for sale at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Ryan Reed, a contestant and the public relations director at IGRA, said his experience in Little Rock was more pleasant than he had anticipated, even though he feels like IGRA is still largely ignored despite its 30 year history.

“There’s a reason why we exist,” Reed said. He, like many other contestants, grew up on a farm but felt excluded from the rodeo scene in the earlier part of his adulthood. “By being able to compete in a very accepting environment and show your skills – it builds confidence for people and I think they carry that on into the other parts of their lives when the rodeo is over.”

Wade Earp, 49, (L) and his husband Jonathan Suder, 25, from Dallas step out of their horse trailer at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Wade Earp, 49, (L) and his husband Jonathan Suder, 25, from Dallas step out of their horse trailer at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


A golf cart with a "Princess parking only" sign is seen at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A golf cart with a “Princess parking only” sign is seen at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Wade Earp, 49, (R) and his husband Jonathan Suder, 25, from Dallas walk to the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock party in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Wade Earp, 49, (R) and his husband Jonathan Suder, 25, from Dallas walk to the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock party in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Ashley Vickers, 29, (L) and her fiancee Sara Strickland, 32, play with their two dogs as they get ready for breakfast at their home in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 29, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Ashley Vickers, 29, and her fiancee Sara Strickland, 32, play with their two dogs as they get ready for breakfast at their home in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 29, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Todd Tramp, 51, competes at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Todd Tramp, 51, competes at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


A woman waits to compete in the Goat Dressing event at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A woman waits to compete in the Goat Dressing event at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


A cowboy wrestles a steer at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A cowboy wrestles a steer at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Jason Strand, 33, helps Raymond Norris, 45, with his dress before the drag racing contest at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Jason Strand, 33, helps Raymond Norris, 45, with his dress before the drag racing contest at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Raymond Norris, 45, rides a steer while competing in the Wild Drag Race at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Raymond Norris, 45, rides a steer while competing in the Wild Drag Race at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Greg Smith, 47, from Alabama chats with a cowboy as he waits to compete in the Wild Drag Race at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Greg Smith, 47, from Alabama chats with a cowboy as he waits to compete in the Wild Drag Race at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 25, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


A judge gestures to a competitor at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A judge gestures to a competitor at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Kirk Carter, 51, and his husband Shawn Eddings, 49, warm up with their horses at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Kirk Carter, 51, and his husband Shawn Eddings, 49, warm up with their horses at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, United States April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Pierre Cadieux, 40, from Canada, Mary Honeycutt, 37, from Fort Worth, Frank Thompson, 41, from Oklahoma City, Jeff Germany, 54, from Oklahoma City, and Tommy Channel, from Denver, chat at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock party in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Pierre Cadieux, 40, from Canada, Mary Honeycutt, 37, from Fort Worth, Frank Thompson, 41, from Oklahoma City, Jeff Germany, 54, from Oklahoma City, and Tommy Channel, from Denver, chat at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock party in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Gordon Satterly, 61, from Michigan (L) kisses his husband Richard Brand, 53, from Texas, at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock party in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Gordon Satterly, 61, from Michigan (L) kisses his husband Richard Brand, 53, from Texas, at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock party in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 24, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Gordon Satterly, 61, from Michigan holds hands with his husband Richard Brand, 53, from Texas, at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock party. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Gordon Satterly, 61, from Michigan holds hands with his husband Richard Brand, 53, from Texas, at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock party. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


Diamond State Rodeo Association President and U.S. marine veteran Sandy Bidwell, 68 and her wife, former army national guard veteran and Assistant Rodeo Director, Lisa Smith, 59, dance at the In the Rock party. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Diamond State Rodeo Association President and U.S. marine veteran Sandy Bidwell, 68 and her wife, former army national guard veteran and Assistant Rodeo Director, Lisa Smith, 59, dance at the In the Rock party. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters


A woman holds rainbow flags for the grand entry at the International Gay Rodeo Association's Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A woman holds rainbow flags for the grand entry at the International Gay Rodeo Association’s Rodeo In the Rock in Little Rock, Arkansas, April 26, 2015. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

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