September 21, 1947 - September 23, 1993
Lee Kittleson was born and raised in Beach, North Dakota. As a teenager, Lee spent his summers working on the cattle ranches of several uncles, and traveling the rodeo circuit with them. That's when Lee first developed his love of rodeos. Upon graduating from high school Lee enlisted in the military. After serving a tour of duty in Vietnam he returned home as a highly decorated sergeant. Lee then attended college in Montana, where he competed in amateur rodeos as a bull rider and team roper.
Lee moved to Denver in 1975, where he worked as a blacksmith. Lee also raised and trained quarter horses, and eventually, he became a sales representative for a western tack company. It was September 1981 when Lee first heard of gay rodeo. Wayne Jakino had just returned to Denver from the Reno National Gay Rodeo, where he had been challenged by "Miss Texas" to come back to Reno the next year with a more representative group from Colorado. The Colorado Gay Rodeo Association (CGRA) was soon formed, and in August 1982, CGRA led a group of 310 people to Reno for the 7th Reno National Gay Rodeo. Lee was a CGRA member then, and one of the 43 CGRA entrants in that rodeo. We have no record of the score sheets from that rodeo, but a newspaper article sent out by UPI stated that Lee won the rodeo.
Lee's next rodeo was the 1st Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo, which was held in Aurora, CO in June 1983. He won buckles in Chute Dogging, Breakaway Roping, Team Roping, and Wild Cow Milking; as well as All-Around Cowboy.
Soon after the 1st CGRA rodeo was completed, news reached Denver that the New York "Gay Men's Health Crisis" organization was sponsoring the October 1st performance of "The World's Toughest Rodeo" to be held in Madison Square Garden. Lee, Wayne Jakino and Casey Jackson (two other Hall of Fame inductees) began promoting this professional rodeo to gay country western bars across the country. Because of this, word of the gay rodeos reached New York City, and Lee was selected to represent gay rodeos as the Grand Marshal of the event.
From "The Wyoming Eagle" newspaper, Cheyenne-- August 20, 1983:
Cowboy Gallops on N.Y. Streets
The star of the gay rodeo circuit galloped through Manhattan streets Friday in an attempt to raise funds for AIDS research. Lee Kittleson saddled up his horse at Madison Square Garden and weaved through the busy traffic on Eighth Avenue to hold a news conference at Central Park. Kittleson was in Manhattan to publicize the need for money to fund AIDS research. AIDS - Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome - is an illness that subverts the body's immune system and is almost always fatal. The majority of AIDS victims are homosexuals. Kittleson, 35, a Denver, Colorado resident, has become a celebrity in the gay community - he is an authentic cowboy and rodeo champion who looks like the Marlboro Man. Kittleson, who used to compete in traditional rodeos, now stars on the newly formed gay rodeo circuit.
It is not known how many gay rodeo fans attended this event, but Lee was honored that he was chosen to be there, and was very proud that it was a successful fundraiser in the battle against AIDS.
In the fall of 1983, Lee was elected Vice-President of the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association (CGRA), and was also involved on the CGRA Rodeo Committee. The following summer, Lee was the Grand Marshal for the 2nd Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo in June 1984. Lee won buckles in Chute Dogging, Breakaway Roping, Team Roping, Steer Decorating, Wild Cow Milking, and was again the All-Around Cowboy. When Lee's Team won the buckle for Wild Cow Milking in 1983, each of the three team members received $68.00 for their efforts. In 1984, Lee's team won that buckle again, but each member only received $14.20 for their efforts. Wild Cow Milking was a rough event and not many contestants wanted to enter the event more than once. It wasn't too many years before that event was replaced by the much "gentler" Wild Drag Race!
Prior to the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), gay rodeos determined their Rodeo Royalty based on what the Reno National Gay Rodeo had been doing. The contestants did not have to be a member of the Hosting Rodeo Association. As a member of CGRA, Lee entered the Mr. Texas Gay Rodeo competition. Lee raised money for the AIDS Project (Denver) and the Metropolitan Community Church of Denver. The Mr., Ms., and Miss contestants were judged on how much money they raised for charities, along with the other judged criteria of western attire, personality, talent, and horsemanship. Lee was named Mr. Texas Gay Rodeo 1984. Having spent his summers on cattle ranches, Lee was a very good roper who won numerous buckles with his roping ability. Lee was also interested in helping others become better rodeo contestants, as evidenced by this brief mention in the May 1985 CGRA Newsletter: "Every Saturday at 11:00 a.m. in CHARLIE'S parking lot, roping classes are held. Lee Kittleson is instructing and we encourage everyone interested to join us."
In March 1985, Lee competed in the 1st "L.A. Rodeo" hosted by the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association (GSGRA). Lee won buckles in Chute Dogging, Steer Decorating, Wild Cow Milking, and All-Around Cowboy. In June 1985, Lee competed at the 3rd Rocky Mountain Regional Rodeo, where he won buckles in Chute Dogging, Breakaway Roping, Team Roping, and was 1st Runner-up to All-Around Cowboy.
In September 1985, Lee was a CGRA Delegate to the first IGRA Convention which was held in Denver. That's right! Everything up to this point pre-dates the first IGRA rodeo! Right after convention, Lee moved to California where he became a GSGRA member in October. Lee continued competing on the new IGRA rodeo circuit. There was no IGRA Finals Rodeo until 1987, but at the end of the 1986 rodeo year Lee won Finals Buckles in 6 out of 13 events based on cumulative point totals throughout the rodeo year. He also won the title of First IGRA All-Around Cowboy! At the 1987 IGRA Finals Rodeo held in Hayward, CA, Lee won three event buckles.
Lee continued competing in gay rodeos until passing away on September 23, 1993; just two days short of his 46th birthday. Lee believed that by participating in the sport of gay rodeo he could help to break down some of the stereotypical barriers placed upon gay people.