By Laura Latzko, March 2018 Web Exclusive.
Each year, the annual Arizona Gay Rodeo offers the community an opportunity to gather in celebration of iconic rodeo events, cowboy-inspired entertainment and a wild, wild Western atmosphere with an LGBTQ twist.
For 33 years, the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA) has been hosting the rodeo in the Valley. And, for the sixth year in a row, the festivities will take place at the Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds, an intimate venue that allows attendees to easily navigate between the the competition, hosted in a Mexican charro-syle rodeo arena, and the dance pavilion, under the same roof as the staged entertainment and vendors.
According to Ron Trusley, AGRA president and International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) secretary, the goal each year is to create a weekend rodeo itinerary that is enjoyable for contestants and non-contestants alike.
Inside the dance hall, vendors set up LGBTQ and western-themed products, ranging from artwork and food items to cowboy hats and IGNITE’s condom bar.
Additionally, the main stage inside Corona Ranch’s indoor dance pavilion will feature a variety of entertainment, including rodeo royalty, drag queens, vocalists, choruses and square dance groups.
“We tend to make our rodeo, as much as we can, a big party atmosphere for people who are not competing,” Trusley said.
A Wild Ride
Every year, contestants travel from different parts of Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada and California to compete. The rodeo also sees a handful of contestants from such Midwestern and East Coast states as Minnesota and Virginia and often attracts cowboys and cowgirls from Canada.
“It costs them a lot to come to a rodeo and participate, especially if they are in horse events,” Trusley said, adding that more then 80 male and female contestants took part in last year’s rodeo.
As part of the rodeo, contestants compete in traditional events, including bull riding, calf roping on foot, steer riding, pole bending, chute dogging and barrel racing. This year, saddle bronc riding returns to the lineup.
Additionally, veteran and amateur contestants participate in camp events such as steer decorating, wild drag and goat dressing.
“A lot of our really strong contestants started doing only goat dressing,” Trusley said. “That’s a beginner’s event. [They] do that and then they progress into other events.”
The Arizona Gay Rodeo kicks off the 2018 International Gay Rodeo Association season, and will be followed by 10 other competitions put on by LGBTQ rodeo associations across the country.
According to Trusley, the Arizona rodeo offers contestants a chance to get a strong start to their seasons.
“It gives them a good start for the year,” he said. “It gives them an opportunity to make sure they understand any rule changes that have occurred.”
Throughout the year, contestants win points toward their overall totals by competing in different rodeos.
The top 20 male and female contestants from around the country go on to compete in the World Gay Rodeo Finals Oct. 25-28 in Texas.
The rodeo weekend kicks off Feb. 16 with the finals for the 2018 Country Idol karaoke singing competition.
This year, more than 20 contestants will take part in the finals, each of whom qualified by earning first or second place at one of the 13 prelims. During the prelims, contestants were judged on vocal ability, stage presence, song choice and audience response. But this year, contestants are no longer required to sing at least one country song at the preliminaries or the finals.
“We wanted to make the competition inclusive to any and everybody that wanted to get onstage and show us their talent,” said Jae Gonzalez, Country Idol co-promoter, adding that this change allows a greater diversity of singers, from different genres, to take part in the contest.
Top contestants from the finals will go on to take part in a local tour, in which they will perform at a variety of local events in the year ahead.
The tour, according to Gonzalez, will be an opportunity for contestants to gain additional exposure in the community while helping to create visibility for the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association and what they do as an organization.
“That will give an opportunity for them to have a show space to show their talents but also give an opportunity for AGRA to raise additional funds for the community,” Gonzalez said.
The winners of 2018 Country Idol will be announced Feb. 17 at the dance pavilion’s main stage.
Paying It Forward
Each year, an important part of rodeo weekend is the fundraising AGRA achieves. Despite weather conditions during last year’s rodeo, AGRA was able to donate $17,325 to local organizations.
According to Trusley, AGRA currently has a membership of around 130 people, and association membership is open to everyone, regardless of whether or not they participate in rodeos.
“A lot of people who are members of rodeo associations do not compete in the rodeo, but they just enjoy the sport. They like to watch it. They just like to be involved and do work in other areas,” Trusley said.
A member of AGRA since 1985, Trusley first got involved as member of a square dance group called the Midnite Ramblers.
“What’s kept me involved all these years is the camaraderie and knowing that when we do a rodeo, and we have a profit, we are able to give back to other organizations in the community,” Trusley said.
For more information on AGRA, visit agra-phx.com.
The 33rd annual Arizona Gay Rodeo
Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds
7611 S. 29th Ave., Laveen, Ariz.
The 33rd annual Arizona Gay Rodeo’s Weeknd Schedule
7 p.m. Country Idol Competition
6-9 p.m. Rodeo Contestants Registration
9 a.m. Mandatory new rodeo contestant meeting
10 a.m. Rodeo start time
10 a.m. VIP Party Buses* begin departing Charlie’s to rodeo (every 30 minutes)
1 p.m. Grand entry
2 p.m. Entertainment and dancing begins
5 p.m. Country Idol Competition (continued)
5 p.m. VIP Party Buses* depart rodeo to Charlie’s (every 30 minutes until 9 p.m.)
10 a.m. Rodeo start time
Noon VIP Party Bus* from Charlie’s to Rodeo Noon
2 p.m. Entertainment and dancing begins
6 p.m. VIP Party Buses* depart rodeo to Charlie’s
8 p.m. Awards presentation
*Tickets to the VIP Party Bus, which include roundtrip transportation between Charlie’s and Corona Ranch, rodeo admission, t-shirt, $10 in drink tickets and refreshments en route, are available for purchase at Charlie’s, 727 W. Camelback Road, Phoenix. (See a bartender for tickets.)