Gay rodeo makes its Florida debut
The Florida Gay Rodeo Association is hosting the state's first gay rodeo this weekend in Davie with festivities, including rodeo competitions and concerts.
BY STEPHANIE CHEN
Nikol Hillman was ''cowgirling'' decades before the success of the Oscar-winning film, Brokeback Mountain.
At 8 years old, she rode horses, and by high school, she competed in rodeos.
''I eat and breathe this stuff everyday,'' said Hillman, 30, of Ocala, director of the state's first gay rodeo, which comes to the Bergeron Rodeo Grounds today and Sunday.
Hillman also competed in bull riding and bareback bronco riding, events traditionally reserved for men, she said.
''And that's the great thing about gay rodeo,'' she said. ``Every gender can compete in every event. It really breaks down those barriers.''
The Sunshine Stampede, organized by the Florida Gay Rodeo Association, begins at 9 a.m. today and continues through Sunday night. The contest draws in nearly 100 competitors from around the country.
Competitors are vying for cash prizes and a decorated belt buckle to wear proudly around their waist. In the meantime, cowboys and cowgirls will enjoy the event together.
As participant Tom Schmitt of Sarasota arrived Friday to register, he spent the day setting up tents and chatting with the other participants.
''There's not really any prepping for it,'' said Schmitt, who never expected to become a cowboy -- until seven years ago. ``Sometimes you just got to do it. There's definitely an adrenaline rush.''
While the Sunshine Stampede offers creative events exclusive to gay rodeos -- such as dressing goats in underwear and racing in drag queen costumes -- it remains a serious rodeo competition.
''People get dirty, and it can be very dangerous,'' said Jim Mitchell, director of Florida Gay Rodeo Association. ``We don't water it down just because it's presented by a gay rodeo association.''
The association formed a year ago and now has more than 250 members, 20 of whom are participating in this weekend's event, Mitchell said.
The Florida chapter is part of the International Gay Rodeo Association, which has 27 chapters nationwide. There are nearly 4,300 members in the 26-year-old international organization.
Rodeo competitions have grown in popularity in recent years because it is an exciting and low cost activity, said Barry Luke, who serves on the Florida chapter's board.
One of the key goals of this weekend's event is to bring people together, said Florida chapter president Bryan Hodges.
He expects the rodeo to fill the arena's 4,300-odd seats with gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, as well as families and visitors from all over the nation.
Cowboy Jody Harvey of Dallas made the long trek to Sunshine Stampede with Feisty, a 1,200-pound mare.
''She's just don't wanna be still,'' he said, carefully trying to balance himself on the saddle. ``She just wants to run.''
That, ladies and gentlemen, is why I quit hanging out in the Turkish baths.
Do you know the difference between a straight and gay rodeo? At the straight rodeo all the fans yell "ride that sucker"
I would have expected this to start up in Texas before anywhere else.
Gay rodeo? I thought bestiality was illegal?
*yawn* They hold it up here the same weekend as the big HamFest. A lot more people attend the HamFest than the rodeo.