1956 - October 1986
It happened in Reno - 1982. A syndicated photographer (Mick Hicks) snapped this picture, after Ron Jesser had just been bucked off his bronc. But his infectious smile remained in good times and in the bad. This picture was eventually printed in 56 newspapers nationwide and earned him the title of "The most photographed gay cowboy in the USA." Many of today's finalists remember his encouragement as he helped tie them down for their events.
Ron was one of the Fathers of Gay Rodeo. He was instrumental in forming the original framework of IGRA and in the development of the first IGRA Rodeo Rules. He was a contestant who also worked behind the scenes to expand and solidify IGRA. As a contestant he embodied the true cowboy spirit -- he helped and trained other contestants and kept his infectious smile in good times and bad.
Ron succumbed to AIDS in October 1986. Subsequently, the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association established the Ron Jesser Memorial Award for dedication and sportsmanship, which is given yearly at the Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo. In addition, Denver has the Ron Jesser House, which is a temporary hospice for AIDS patients. The Colorado AIDS Project uses Ron's determination to live as an inspiration in their counseling program.
Truly, we can all be proud of Ron's life and dedication to IGRA and he is a worthy addition to the IGRA Hall of Fame.
The following is a clipping from an unknown magazine found in the CGRA's "Big Wooden Book". The first paragarph in this article referes to the photo seen at the top of this page.
Hot, Sweaty, Dirty and trudging back to the chutes after bombing out in calf roping, Ron was decked out with his ropes and thinking about his next event, wild cow milking. Suddenly somebody yells "Hold it!" and Mick Hicks snapped a picture of a gay cowboy that eventually was reprinted by newspapers across the country. From Reno to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Chicago and New York, Colorado's own Ron Jesser became the unofficial symbol of Gay Rodeo in 1981. "Shucks, I didn't even pose for that one," he says, but he did pose for photographers from England, Germany, Holland and France. He did a small stint for Real People and his posed and action pictures ended up in the Advocate, Honcho, Mandate, This Week in Texas, and Blueboy.
This authentic cowboy appearance of a man who happens to be gay, is not contrived. Ron was born and raised in Colorado and currently lives on a ranch in Adams County which also serves as the non-bar headquarters for the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association. Ron, and his lover Bob, always have the welcome out as they help CGRA members practice riding, roping, and caring for horses.
How does he take all the publicity? It doesn't seem to go to his head, and he still remembers the days when he wanted to be a dancer and he actually danced professionally for awhile with a group that performed all over Europe. His career came to an end when his instructor finally leveled with him that his legs were "just too bowed" to ever make it big. He still loves to dance for fun and is an original member of CGRA's Rocky Mountain Clogging Team.
Throughout his life Ron has been involved in several gay causes. He was a leader in the Sembach Gay Alliance while in the Air Force and was a volunteer for the military gay hotline in Del Rio, Texas. He became a captain with the Denver Athletic Union Volleyball Team and later was an original member of the High Country Volleyball Team. His varied careers have ranged from working on a ranch, in a warehouse, and in a hairdressing studio.
But the high points of Ron's life still revolve around rodeo and recently the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association. He is proud that the gay cowboy has come into his own in Colorado and actually has a forum, recognition, and a national event in which to participate. As for the future, he doubts that he will be photographed as much at this year's National Reno Gay Rodeo but he says it was fun while it lasted.