Arizona's Gay Rodeo Brings Together Families, Diverse Community

From bull wrangling to cornhole-ing, we were there to photograph the queer spectrum of people who showed up at Arizona's historic rodeo, which has a long history of advocating for queer rights.

Cowboys wrangle a calf during the Arizona Gay Rodeo on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. Photo by Jake Hylton.
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This weekend, Arizona’s annual gay rodeo took place in Laveen at the Corona Ranch. Events included drag shows, calf wrangling, and family games. LOOKOUT was there to get photos of the people and events.

The Arizona Gay Rodeo, also known as the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA), was established in 1986 in Phoenix, Arizona. It was one of several gay rodeo associations that emerged in the 1980s as part of the gay rights movement.

The first AGRA rodeo was held in March 1987 at Rawhide, an Old West-themed tourist attraction on the outskirts of Phoenix. The event drew more than 4,000 spectators and raised over $12,000 for local AIDS charities. It featured traditional rodeo events such as bull riding, calf roping, and barrel racing, as well as some unique events such as goat dressing and steer decorating.

Over the years, the AGRA rodeo grew in popularity and became a major event on the gay rodeo circuit. It attracted competitors from all over the United States and Canada, as well as Europe and Australia. The rodeo also became an important fundraiser for local charities, particularly those that supported people living with HIV/AIDS.

In 1993, the AGRA rodeo was the site of a historic protest by animal rights activists, who disrupted the event and accused the organizers of cruelty to animals. The incident sparked a debate within the gay community about the ethics of rodeo, with some activists arguing that it was a form of exploitation and others defending it as a legitimate sport.

Arizona’s rodeo is part of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA), which was founded in Reno, Nevada in 1985 as a way to bring together the growing number of gay rodeo associations across North America. Its first official event, the IGRA Finals Rodeo, was held in 1987 in Hayward, California.

The IGRA's mission was to provide a welcoming and supportive environment for LGBTQ+ individuals who were interested in rodeo and western heritage. The organization sought to promote diversity and inclusion within the wider rodeo community, while also raising awareness and funds for LGBTQ+ causes.

Over the years, the IGRA grew in size and scope, and today it has more than 25 member associations across the United States and Canada. Its annual rodeo circuit includes more than a dozen events, culminating in the IGRA Finals Rodeo, which brings together the top competitors from each association.

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