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Gay rodeo rounds up charity cash

By CHARLES YOO
Photos by Kimberly Smith
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/26/04

AJC Online: http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/dekalb/0704/26rodeo.html

EXCEPT FOR THE DRAG RACE — the one featuring the drag queens — it was much like any other rodeo.

The bull weighed a thousand pounds and writhed in anger. Number 127 couldn't wait to ride it.

"I've landed on my head once," said Steven Daigle, 31, a cowboy from New Orleans who leads a double life as a geographic information system consultant.

The rodeo that took place over the weekend at the Georgia International Horse Park in Conyers featured bull riding and other traditional activities but also came with a twist.

Southern Spurs Rodeo gathered 75 gay men and women from Dallas, Texas, to Dallas, Ga., to show off their wrangling skills for the competition's 10-year anniversary. A decade ago, a small group of gay Georgians first hosted the event to connect with other Americana aficionados in a setting where they need not hide their sexuality.

"Men had trouble competing because they couldn't be themselves," said Barbara Bugg, the chief organizer. “Now, you can."

Today, the group has 130 members. Saturday and Sunday drew 1,400 spectators combined. It has so far given $70,000 to charities locally and will again donate the proceeds, as much as $20,000, to two nonprofits: Childkind Inc. and Grady Memorial Hospital's Infectious Disease Pediatrics Clinic.

The metro Atlanta event is one of 20 gay rodeos in the United States and Canada that make up the International Gay Rodeo Association, which began in 1976. The grand championship is in Omaha, Neb., in October.

The rodeo is a yearlong effort. Scores of volunteers raise the $70,000 needed to make the rodeo happen each year via donations, corporate sponsorships and fund-raiser bingos.

In addition to traditional steer wrestling, calf roping and bull riding, the gay rodeo comes with its own touch: a wild drag race.

Gay rodeo breaks “the typical stereotypes of how people perceive the gay community," said Dean Sepp, a registered nurse and a board member from Atlanta.

"This is a family atmosphere," he said.

Scott Sinkler of Tucker thought so, too. He and his wife, Nicki, brought their three children — Conrad, 6; Eric, 3; and 6-week-old Kaitlin — “to just enjoy the afternoon, see animals, bulls and horses and keep them [the children] entertained."

Sometimes, the rodeo is a matchmaker. Eight years ago, John McHan went to two rodeos and developed a crush on a bull rider. “I saw him and chased him down," said McHan, 56, a sales manager in Dallas, Ga. McHan and the cowboy, Cromar Waters, have been together since, living on a 3-acre lot, raising two horses, three dogs, four cats and a bunch of birds.

 

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