By Lisa Neff, Staff writer
The gate opened and Kristin Basneft went for broke. In well under 60 seconds she wrestled her steer to the muddy ground in the chute dogging competition in the Windy City Rodeo 2001.
Basneft, the smallest contestant in the competition at Sundown Stables in Steger Aug. 26, raised her arms for victory. The crowd cheered. She'd braved the mud and conquered the cow.
"I think maybe I buckled;' Basneft, 29, of Springfield, Mo., said, hoping she won a prized belt buckle.
The rodeo, hosted by the Illinois Gay Rodeo Association, drew about 80 competitors and hundreds of fans to Steger, in far south suburban Chicago, last weekend. The event was one of 25 rodeos this year on the International Gay Rodeo Association's thriving circuit.
The first day at Sundown, rodeo riders and watchers endured a series of rainstorms that turned the arena into a mudpit. The second day, the arena still a mudhole, they baked in sun and heat.
For the spectators-most of them male-the rodeo provided an opportunity to strut in spit-shined cowboy boots, new white straw hats and stiff Wranglers adorned with a variety of colored bandannas.
"My boyfriend's wearing red cowboy boots. Can you believe it?" said Louis Collins, 29, of Chicago. "When I saw them I went, 'Girlfriend, I said let's go to the rodeo not let's go to Rodeo Drive."
For the competitors, many of whom spend their weekdays pursuing professional careers, the rodeo provided an opportunity to showcase their weekend skills-bull riding, calf roping, flag racing, pole bending, bareback bronco riding and barrel racing.
"I do the horse events," said Linda Rhuby, 53, of Corcoram, Minn. "And the roping on foot. I just do it for the fun of it."
Rhuby discovered the gay rodeo circuit about seven years ago, while performing in a country and western dance group. She hadn't been on horseback for about 15 years, but she bought a quarter horse named Sassafras, began trail riding and eventually started to compete.
"The fist time I did barrels, I fell off," Rhuby said. "I just do it for fun, really. I don't win much."
The IGRA rodeos also involve uniquely gay events such as wild drag racing, which involves three people-one in drag-and a wild steer.
"Wild drag is just shit-loads of fun," said Brian Van de Mark, of San Diego. Van de Mark attended a number of gay rodeos as a fan before deciding earlier this summer to try wild drag racing, goat dressing, steer decorating and chute dogging.
"I'm a gay cowboy," he said.
And Basneft is a cowgirl. She started rodeoing last year and, like Van de Mark, competes mostly in camp or novice rough stock events.
"The animals are big and I'm small so it's harder to dog 'em;' she said. "But I'm learning."
From the stands Tyler Douglas, 69, watched Basneft and other contestants with an old-timer's eye.
"Some of them have good form," Douglas, a veteran rodeo rider, said. "Most of these folks just do it for a good time. They're weekend cowboys with ropes. But you sometimes see some top-notch rodeoing. Some of them got the hole shebang:".
Douglas rode broncos and bulls in mainstream rodeos in Wyoming, Montana and Texas. "Bull riding is 99-percent mental," he said. "It's not a natural thing to do. Ever been on a half-ton of bull?"
Douglas rode for a dozen years before hanging up his spurs and settling in San Francisco.
"Rodeoing I got restless as a hen on a hot griddle," he said. "There were plenty of rodeo floozies chasing after a prize but being gay I got lonesome as a preacher on payday. So I quit the rodeo and went to the Castro. A cowboy can do pretty well there. But I missed the sport, too."
So, Douglas heartily welcomed the advent of the gay rodeo. 'I've traveled to a lot of them as a spectator," he said. "I like the spirit. A regular rodeo is a lot more competitive and it's about money. The gay rodeos are about just doing the best you can."
Rodeo organizers also intend the events to raise money for charities. WCR 2001 benefited The Children's Place Association, The HIV Coalition, Howard Brown Health Center and the Rodeo Contestant Crisis Fund.