By Steve Papinchak / Gazette Journal
CARSON CITY - The state Supreme Court on Friday refused to overturn a Yerington judge's ruling prohibiting the Gay Rodeo National Championship from opening today in Fallon.
The justices issued their ruling in an extraordinary hearing held three hours after 3rd District Court Judge Archie Blake issued a temporary restraining order halting the rodeo.
Justices concluded Blake acted properly in stopping the rodeo on grounds that a county license for the event had not been obtained. They also agreed with Blake that the hastily planned event would strain the rural area's police, sanitary facilities, traffic control and emergency services, thereby threatening public safety.
Attorneys for rodeo organizers said the event would be canceled until next fall, when they'll seek a location in the Reno or Las Vegas areas.
But American Civil Liberties Union attorney Marc Picker said he will fight Churchill County's attempt to get a permanent restraining order prohibiting future county homosexual rodeos. And rodeo organizers will sue Churchill County to try to recover the money it lost by the cancellation, he said.
A hearing has been set for Wednesday before Blake on the county's request for a permanent injunction.
Although Chief Justice Al Gunderson said the case doesn't raise questions of homosexual rights or freedom of expression, ACLU attorneys representing David Lantry, who had leased his 20-acre Stockman's Arena to rodeo organizers, argued that Churchill County rejected the rodeo because it didn't want homosexuals exercising their lifestyle there.
"The mere fact of having a Gay Rodeo is a political expression and an expression of freedom of speech," attorney W. Chris Wicker told the justices.
Blake ruled that rodeo organizers had not obtained a legally required license from Churchill County. After a four-hour hearing, he also said that Lantry's roping arena isn't equipped to handle a rodeo.
Lantry's attorneys argued that other rodeos had been held at the arena and that no one objected then.
The ACLU lawyers also said state law only requires counties to issue special events licenses for activities that are expected to draw at least 1,000 people. Only 600 spectators and rodeo participants were anticipated at any one time during the two-day event, they said.
Gunderson noted the unusual nature of the hearing when he pointed out there weren't any court records for justices to review in examining organizers' claims.
The justices' hearing began at 5:10 p.m. - so soon after Blake's ruling that transcripts from the earlier hearing in Fallon hadn't yet been prepared.
Justices had been holding private hearings on other cases when the ACLU appeal arrived at the Supreme Court building, and some of them hadn't had time to read the written appeal in the Gay Rodeo case before beginning the hearing.
Attorneys for rodeo supporters said time was essential because the many organizational problems of staging the event precluded it from being rescheduled for a few weeks later.
About $20,000 has already been lost because the event was canceled, and the bills are expected to mount, Picker said.
The Gay Rodeo National Championship is the grand finale to a series of rodeos held in several states. The championship was held in Reno before, and it's been attacked by some public officials who criticized homosexuals.
This year, organizers originally planned to have the event in the University of Nevada-Reno's Lawlor Events Center, but those plans fell through after a contract disagreement. Organizers then made unsuccessful attempts to stage the event in Virginia City and other rural communities in northwestern Nevada.
After a bid to stage it in the Churchill County Fairgrounds failed, organizers turned-to Lantry's roping area on Union Lane, four miles south of Fallon. They signed a lease agreement with Lantry and advertised that the event was going to happen after all.
But opposition quickly developed in Churchill County. About 50 residents of the Fallon area recently presented county officials with a petition bearing 1,519 names of people who didn't want the event in their community.
Sorne vocal petition backers said they feared the spread of AIDS, although the fatal disease can only be passed on through the intimate sharing of body fluids or the joint use of hypodermic needles.
But Churchill County District Attorney Kevin Pasquale didn't raise the homosexual issue in his presentation Friday to Blake.
Gay Rodeo organizers say the attractions of casinos is one of the reasons they like holding the event in the Reno. Despite the rodeo's cancellation, country-western concerts, dances and other rodeo weekend events are being held in several casinos.
Rodeo enthusiasts packed the Icehouse Lounge in Reno Friday during the Mr., Ms. and Miss International Gay Rodeo Association pageant.
Wayne Jakino, founding president of the IGA, said rodeo participants, including one who came from as far away as Australia, would not be daunted by the event's cancellation.
"We're here to party," Jakino said. "Reno will know we're here. Reno will see a lot of our dollars."
About 20 contestants are entered in the pageant that includes Western wear competition and individual interviews, Dickie Dee, Mr. Oklahoma Gay Rodeo Association, said. The winner of the pageant was to be announced Sunday at the rodeo's awards ceremony.