2 min

Putting undies on a goat

Fun aside, gay rodeo circuit is shocked by death

RIDE 'EM, COWBOY! There's lots of decorating events for the more genteel, too. Credit: Xtra files

“The whistle goes, one person grabs the goat’s rear legs and lifts them up and then other person puts the jockey underwear on the goat,” Kevin Murray laughingly explains.

Murray is the hotline co-ordinator for the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association. He’s explaining the incredibly popular goat dressing.

“Goat dressing is an easy, beginner activity,” says Murray. “It attracts people who might otherwise be afraid to try other events.”

Murray often competes in goat dressing as well as the other International Gay Rodeo Association “camp events”: steer decorating (tying a ribbon onto the tail of a bucking steer) and wild drag racing (a team event with a cowboy, cowgirl and a third of either gender in drag).

Murray says that wild drag racing causes a lot of injuries.

“Since it’s so entertaining lots of beginners want to try it,” Murray says, “but it’s actually quite challenging. For the most part, the injuries are bruises and sprains.”

Sometimes the injuries are much more serious. On Oct 2 at the 1999 Atlantic Stampede, 36-year-old Californian Dean John Berkan was killed attempting his first steer ride.

It’s the second death in the 14-year history of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA). Berkan was competing in his third stampede and making his first try at the steer riding event.

For Murray, discovering the gay rodeo, through a poster in gay club, was a life-changing experience.

“I became a member in 1993 and in 1994 I met my current partner through the association,” he says happily. “It’s been wonderful. Prior to that I wasn’t part of the gay community. Within the space of a year I went from knowing half a dozen or a dozen gay people to knowing 500 to 1,000.”

The Alberta group is the third largest gay rodeo chapter in North America.

Funnily enough, Murray says, opposition has not come from Calgary’s straight cowboys and -girls. “The biggest negative thing we’ve had to confront is animal rights groups. One year there were the gay animal rights people,” he says.

For IGRA spokesperson Thom Sloan, the existence of homo rodeos speaks to the maturity of the gay community.

“There are a huge number of gays that live in rural areas,” says Sloan, “and this really appeals to them. If you look at the evolution of gay culture, you see the proliferation of different gay groups.”

And IGRA’s membership is 35 percent female; unlike other associations, women can compete in all events.

“One of the best things about our group is that with our dances and our rodeo we get a close to 50-50 split between men and women,” says Murray.

“I hear that men do one thing and women do another thing in a lot of gay communities, whereas here we all get together and have fun.”

The IRGRA hotline is at (403) 541-8140, and the group sponsors regular dances. The Canadian Rockies International Rodeo will be held in Calgary from Jun 30 to Jul 2, 2000.