Churchill officials keep watch at Fallon ranch By Jill Jorden / Gazette-Journal
FALLON - Ranch owner David Lantry shook his head as he surveyed the empty bleachers, cattle stalls and restrooms surrounding his livestock arena.
Nearby, up to 25 sheriff's and Highway Patrol officers kept a careful watch on the entrance to his property, making sure no one violated a judge's order preventing the Gay Rodeo National Championship from taking place.
"This is the most asinine thing I've ever seen in my life," Lantry said. As he spoke, a Churchill County sheriff's deputy stood on the highway and snapped photos with a camera and telephoto lens. Another pointed a video recorder at every car and person on the property.
For Lantry, the quiet businessman who leased his Stockman's Arena to organizers of the Gay Rodeo after several other arenas turned them away, Saturday had promised to be one of the most profitable days of the year.
But rather than counting his receipts on what was to be the opening day of the weekend event, Lantry was trying not to think about his losses.
The rented bleachers, portable toilets and other costs, such as moving cattle to the arena, had to be paid for whether the rodeo was a boon or bust.
"I figure I'm out at least five grand," Lantry said.
Rodeo organizers estimated their losses at $20,000.
The Gay Rodeo was shot down Friday when a district court judge ruled organizers needed a special permit because of the number of spectators expected for the event. Organizers appealed to the state Supreme Court, which ruled Friday evening that the judge acted within his jurisdiction.
RODEO ORGANIZERS estimate hundreds of spectators and 75 contestants traveled to the Reno area from throughout the country for the event. Most stayed away from Fallon when the rodeo was canceled, but some contestants went out to Lantry's to care for their livestock before the long drive home.
The contestants said they were upset the event was canceled. But even more troubling was the cold shoulder they received from local townspeople, officials and law enforcement agencies.
Lantry and several contestants said sheriffs and Highway Patrol officers prevented anyone from entering Lantry's property from 4 p.m. Friday to Saturday morning.
"Contestants came to feed their animals, and (officers) wouldn't let them on," Lantry said. "My nephew and father-in-law came and they wouldn't let them on. They told them if they came on the property they were admitted homosexuals and subject to arrest."
Churchill County Sheriff Bill Lawry flatly denied the charges.
"That's a damn lie," he said. "I don't think these people could tell the damn truth if their life depended on it."
Going on Lantry's property is perfectly legal, Churchill County District Attorney Kevin Pasquale said. The only illegal act would be staging a "rodeo or like event" on the grounds, he said.
Even so, the number of officers at the arena's entrance jumped from one to eight minutes after two carloads of contestants arrived at the arena just before noon.
A SHERIFF'S patrol car blocked the entrance, forcing anyone leaving the property to stop and explain what they were doing there. Anyone who admitted to riding their horse - even at a slow walk - was asked to show identification before leaving. Officers wrote down their names and addresses.
Lantry said he didn't understand why his property was under such close guard when he had assured county officials the rodeo would not take place.
"I told them last night there'd be no one here, there was no threat, it was over with," Lantry said.
Sheriff Lawry's reply: "We're here because we didn't know if they'd obey the court order." His officers wouldn't say why they shot film and videotape.
The contestants obeyed the order, although they said they didn't agree with it.
"This gives you the impression this is really a backward place," said 30-year-old Larry Lindstrom of Denver.
Richard Starkeson, 43, of San Francisco, agreed.
"I wonder when these people are going to wake up," he said. "Sooner or later, they're going to have to be dragged - kicking and screaming - into the 20th century."
BUT FALLON residents stood firm: they didn't want homosexuals in their town.
"l'm glad it was canceled, and I hope they never come back," said Fallon thrift shop volunteer Austine Eason. "I just don't approve of their lifestyle, and I don't care anything about them. Period."
Dave Cornmesser, a Fallon service station owner, said he didn't object to the concept of a Gay Rodeo; he just didn't want it in Fallon.
"Supposing they was to come here and have their rodeo and buy a house here and buy a house there. In 10 years, my property might be worth nothing."
Thom Adamson, a 31-year-old contestant from Los Angeles, said that kind of attitude fuels the fear that kept the Gay Rodeo out of Fallon.
Adamson said he arrived in Fallon with his horse trailer Friday night and was greeted by thrown beer bottles, obscene gestures and drivers trying to run him off the road. When he pulled into one gas station, other customers quickly drove off, their tires spinning in the gravel.
"lt's ridiculous," he said. "How does an animal know if you're gay or straight? And why would it care?"