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Phil Ragsdale
First posted Dec 29, 2006
Last update Nov 7, 2014

Phil Ragsdale

? - June 1, 1992


Inducted 2006

This year marks the 30th anniversary of "gay rodeo", an idea that originated with Phil Ragsdale. When the Imperial Court was formed in Reno in 1975, Phil was crowned as Emperor I of the Comstock Empire Silver Dollar Court and came up with the idea of an amateur rodeo as a fundraiser. He thought it would be a "kick" and although Phil passed away in 1991, he surely would be amazed to see how that dream has evolved thirty years later. Following is some of the story from the history of gay rodeo and IGRA:

Emperor I of Reno, Phil Ragsdale, came up with one of the most creative ideas to raise funds. The year was 1975 and Ragsdale wanted to help out the local Senior Citizens Annual Thanksgiving Day feed. An amateur gay rodeo would be fun, raise money, and even erase a lot of gay stereotyping. Ragsdale did not find it easy to pull off this event. He did finally land the Washoe County Fairgrounds for October 2, 1976 and then could not get any local ranchers to allow gays the use of their animals. Finally, on October 1, 1976, he was able to locate five "wild" range cows, ten "wild" range calves, one pig, and a Shetland pony. The next day, "IT WAS RODEO TIME!" Over 125 people took part in this "first" event and the winners were crowned; first, "King of the Cowboys," second, "Queen of the Cowgirls," and third, "Miss Dusty Spurs" (the drag queen). It was great fun and a minor success.

Ragsdale added several new twists to the 1977 version of this rodeo/fundraiser. He founded the Comstock Gay Rodeo Association and his rodeo project became the National Reno Gay Rodeo. Following the Imperial Court's lead, Ragsdale added the "Mr., Ms., and Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo" contest to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

The 1977 rodeo, although still small, with its new twists donated $214.00 to MDA under the name of "Reno Gay Liberation." The National Reno Gay Rodeo became a totally new outlet for the gay community and created a dual party, "emerging Gay Liberation mixed into a Country/Western party" and "24-hour casinos." Dance troupes from the gay community found an arena to show off their stuff. Square dancing, clogging, formation line dancing, and the rebirth of the two-step made the nights into fabulous parties!

By 1980 a group out of California, the "Pacific Coast Gay Rodeo Association," had emerged with talented rodeo contestants. Fresno, California and Utah had presented some of the top contenders for the Mr., Ms., and Miss titles. Gay rodeo, and the parties surrounding the event, had gained a great foothold in America. Texas was the big state in 1981, bringing a host of fans in Texas T-shirts, a hot contender for All-Around Cowboy, and Mr., Ms., and Miss contestants, who by the way raised nearly $40,000 for MDA. The Miss from Texas won the competition for Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo. With San Francisco only a short drive away, the underground gay network spread the word about this "party" and the audience in the grandstands grew to 10,000. Those who only came for the nightlife swelled the head count of gays in the city to over 40,000!

When Colorado returned to the 1982 National Reno Gay Rodeo they were 400 strong, including a mounted drill team and some 43 contestants. Comedienne Joan Rivers was the Grand Marshall that year, and there were over 10,000 spectators in the grandstands. The contestants from Colorado gained support from other contestants to push for uniform rules in order to improve the quality of the rodeo.

The Mr., Ms., and Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo contestants were no longer comfortable raising large numbers of dollars just for MDA. So 1983's version of Mr., Ms., and Miss National Reno Gay Rodeo allowed contestants to designate 50% to MDA and 50% to a gay-related charity of their choice. Most chose the AIDS Foundation. 1983 also saw the largest number of dance groups ever assembled at a gay rodeo and the grandstands filled with over 12,000 people. The lack of consistent rules continued to create problems in the arena.

By 1984, the ninth and final National Reno Gay Rodeo still brought over 10,000 people to the rodeo grounds and thousands more to Reno for the gambling and nighttime parties. Phil Ragsdale had made a major mark on gay history and introduced the renowned Rose Maddox and Joan Rivers to the emerging gay-Western lifestyle and kindled the nation. In 1985 the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) was formed.

Phill succumbed from AIDS June 1, 1992

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