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.
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.
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.”