I stepped into the world of professional rodeo for the first time about three years ago. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it back to another rodeo before leaving California—and apparently professional rodeo—behind.
This summer I stumbled across a photography exhibit at the Eiteljorg Museum about the International Gay Rodeo (IGR) circuit. Little did I know that in a few months I would see an outstanding documentary about the IGR.
When I saw Queens and Cowboys on the roster of films at the Heartland Film Festival, I knew I had to see it. Aside from a high school rodeo in a nearby town, this was as close to rodeo as I was going to get in Indiana. And I was intrigued that the IGR had crossed paths with me twice in so short a timeframe.
I was not disappointed. Queens and Cowboys is an excellent documentary. The film is filled with interviews with different key people in the rodeo circuit, their experiences with discrimination, their passion for the sport, and their performances in the rodeo over an entire year.
The IGR Association, founded in 1985, fills a deep need in the rodeo community, allowing LGBT people to participate in a sport they love, but are often denied entrance to. In stark contrast to professional rodeo, the IGRA welcomes all—straight, gay, experienced, novice. (Luke Lancaster, a heterosexual rodeo participant, appears in the film, competing at the IGR rodeos.)
In addition to providing a discrimination-free arena for rodeo competition, the gay rodeo provides participants support and encouragement. Members often help or instruct each other. When it looked like Wade Earp (the descendent of Wyatt Earp) would not be able to attend one of the rodeos, he mused how he simply had to attend. Going to the rodeo clearly fed his soul—not just by competing in the rodeo, but by being around his family of fellow rodeo participants.
As the film progresses, the characters develop and deepen. We the audience become intertwined with them, their lives, and their performances in the rodeo. I felt anguish every time Char failed to stay on the bull for six seconds—her hopes of getting a buckle ultimately dashed again. Or when Wade failed to rope a calf. Along with others, I cheered in the end as Wade earned the buckle for All-Around Cowboy, stealing victory from David Renier, who won it the previous two years.
The film delves into the lives of the rodeo members outside of the circuit, lives that are inspiration for anyone who ever feels that they do not belong. Chris Sherman refused to leave his beloved Oklahoma for some place more “accepting”. Travis Gardener related his transsexual journey. Despite the discrimination that they have encountered in their lives, the film shows love, acceptance, and humor in the IGRA.
My hope is that the film has a wide release. The filming, the story, the dialogue are all outstanding. The message of love and acceptance that the film portrays is one that needs to be heard.
I’ll be looking for more films from this director and writer, Matt Livadary. And I can’t wait for next year’s Heartland Film Festival.
Now, if only the rodeo would come to Indiana.