Gay Rodeo In Nevada
By Joshua Wyrick
AS THE TALE IS TOLD, IT WAS a late Friday night during the year of 1976 in Reno, Nevada and a gentleman by the name of Phil Ragsdale was on a mission for livestock. He needed cows, calves and maybe even a pony if he was lucky enough. Ragsdale, the first "Emperor" of the Silver Dollar Court (an organization that "promotes the positive image of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community through charitable fundraising to meet the needs of all") had set out a year ago to raise money for the organization he loved so deeply-by holding a gay rodeo.
With only hours left for Ragsdale to acquire the bevy of farm animals that he needed, he was referred to a local rancher more than sixty miles outside the city of Reno. Because of Ragsdale's dogged determination, the rodeo opened up the next day to a mediocre sized crowd that historical estimates put at 150.
Media buzzed about the event however, and within just a few years Reno's gay rodeo had become an inspirational event that symbolized hope for equality in an overwhelmingly conservative Nevada.
Groups of Christians and Mormons began to descend upon the yearly event with a special brand of ignorance, protesting the rights of the people to gather. One protestor by the name of Daniel Hanson would write a letter to the Reno Evening Gazette proclaiming "The termites of civilization have brazenly oozed out of their closet to proclaim that they have a right to maim, molest and embarrass society:"
The following decade would prove devastating to the gay community. After vehemently combating the AIDS epidemic during the late 70's and throughout the 80's, the rodeo would be banished from Reno entirely after leaving an outstanding bill with the Nevada State Fair commission. Phil Ragsdale himself would succumb to AIDS in 1992, leaving many wondering if the rodeo would ever ride again.
While Reno Gay Rodeo had perished both literally and figuratively, there is a silver lining to this denim clad cloud. The iconic rodeo would return to Reno in 2004 when the High Sierra Rodeo Association sponsored the event, and later in 2006 when the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) hosted their championship games.
The rodeo is a staple of Southwestern gay lifestyle and should not be forgotten. Thanks to the late Phil Ragsdale and the tireless work of his contemporaries, it will be a long time before the dust settles on the rodeo world.
You can find news and updates regarding rodeo events in Nevada at NGRA.com