The Gay Rodeo season is in full swing now, and not without some controversy, from straights.
There is such a thing. Its Web site is http://www.ilgra.com/. (The pink cowboy boots are a nice touch.)
The Windy City Rodeo, sponsored by ILGRA, is scheduled for Aug. 25-26 in Crete. The rodeo has been held in the Chicago area for years, but about five years ago, an inquiry was made about bringing it to Springfield.
"I called and they said you stay out of it, we'll handle it," said Buff Carmichael, who inquired with the non-fair events office. "I haven't heard a word since.
"They'll catch a plane to Colorado to lure the high school rodeo here, but they won't do anything to get the gay rodeo."
No doubt, offering the fairgrounds' Multipurpose Arena for this would be a hot potato for the state, probably too hot. Picketing protesters. Horrified homophobes. Scandalized Springfieldians. The only reason a serious bid hasn't been made to bring it here is easy to see. Hint: It's a three-letter word that begins with "g."
For about 10 years, Michael Cunningham Jr. has been co-director of Illinois' gay rodeo. Cunningham is a 1985 graduate of Lanphier High School. He used to compete before he became co-director. Bringing the rodeo to his hometown would be great, Cunningham said.
The Windy City Rodeo attracts about 100 competitors and 5,000 spectators, according to Cunningham. That translates into tourism and bucks for local merchants.
We are always looking for events to bring to Springfield. This would be one controversial event, but an event just the same. Last time I checked, a gay person's dollar was worth 100 cents, same as a straight person's dollar.
Cunningham foresees a couple of problems with having the rodeo in Springfield. Most of the rodeo's sponsors are in Chicago, for example. And then there is travel.
"Logistically it would be difficult," he said. "People come from all over the U.S. and Canada to compete. It would be a challenge to get people to the rodeo in Springfield."
But, I said, the high schoolers manage to get here from all over the country, and farther.
"That's true," Cunningham said. "And the great thing is the facility there is world class."
Humane treatment of the animals is always a concern at a rodeo. The ILGRA has adopted guidelines that it (hopefully) adheres to. They are on its Web site. But anytime you have a rodeo, animal welfare will be an issue for some.
As for local protesters coming out to tell the gay cowboys and cowgirls they will burn in hell, Cunningham says that is not a concern. It's true, he said, that the Chicago area is more diverse than Springfield, and as a result, more accepting of a gay rodeo. But he believes his hometown would be all right with it.
Events in the gay rodeo virtually are the same as in a straight rodeo - bull and bronc riding, roping, barrel racing and bulldogging, for example. There also are special "camp events." Those include a timed event in which competitors put underwear on a goat, a three-person team (one of whom must compete in drag) herding a steer, and "steer deco" in which competitors attempt to tie a ribbon on a steer's tail while teammates remove a rope from its horns.
"The camp events are the most competitive events," Michael said, "because a lot of people enter those, and so the prize money can be substantial."
The Illinois Gay Rodeo Association is part of the International Gay Rodeo Association. The international's finals rodeo is huge. This year it will be held in Denver in October. It has been held in Las Vegas many times. Springfield might be too small for that one. Anyway, the IGRA's bylaws specify that its finals must be held in an indoor arena.
Look, you don't have to agree with the lifestyle to support bringing the gay rodeo to Springfield. That expensive rodeo arena at the fairgrounds sits empty most of the year. Why not try to get something/anything out there that will make some money?
They are going to hold Illinois' gay rodeo somewhere. It might as well be here.
Well, my heart goes out to Michael Cunningham for fighting the good fight. I, myself, love the IGRA circuit and try to support it every chance I get. It is a great event, plenty of fun and lots of hot cowpokes. WOOOF, who could want anything else?