The International Gay Rodeo Association Institutional Archives
By: Christina Hummel-Colla, Library Collections Assistant, and Josh Garrett-Davis, Gamble Assoc. Curator of Western History, Popular Culture, and Firearms
Gay rodeo bucked out of the gates near Reno, Nevada, in October 1976. Phil Ragsdale, local “Emperor” of the LGBTQ benevolent association the Imperial Court, planned the first rodeo as a benefit event for charity. The annual rodeo grew quickly, soon reaching over 10,000 attendees. In 1983 Denver hosted a second outpost of a growing consortium of state gay rodeo associations, followed by a Texas rodeo outside Houston in 1984. In California, the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association (GSGRA) hosted its first rodeo in March 1985. By a lasso twist of fate, this GSGRA rodeo landed at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center at the edge of Griffith Park, just around the bend from where the Autry Museum would open its doors three years later. In 2009, the Autry became the home of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) Institutional Archives, a remarkable record of gay rodeo history from those first scrappy events to the present.
Many participants in the gay rodeos found a unique home in this community. LGBTQ cowboys, cowgirls, and others—perhaps cowfolk is the most inclusive term—challenged gender norms in a broader society but also within LGBTQ subcultures. Those who came from rural or ranching backgrounds found a way to return to their roots in a more accepting arena. Others came for the country dancing and community.
But IGRA also emerged amid a context of legal and social discrimination, and—perhaps most resonant today—to the terror and anguish of the AIDS epidemic, which especially ravaged gay communities in the 1980s and 1990s. As in all disease outbreaks, legal and social inequalities led to unnecessary death and suffering. Some event grounds and livestock owners refused to rent to IGRA chapters, and yet the intrepid cowfolk rode on, hosting rodeos across the American and Canadian Wests and even back east.
For more history of gay rodeo, see the IGRA’s own history website, the Autry’s finding aid to the collection, and historian Rebecca Scofield’s recent book Outriders: Rodeo at the Fringes of the American West, partially researched in the Autry archives. Scofield, an assistant professor at the University of Idaho, has also led the Voices of Gay Rodeo oral history project. (You can join Scofield for a live discussion about Outriders: Rodeo at the Fringes of the American West on Thursday, June 25, 7:00 p.m.)
This selection of posters from the 1990s demonstrates a range of graphic design among various state IGRA chapters. Pulled from the Posters series of the IGRA Institutional Archives at the Autry, staff across multiple departments have collaborated to digitize these posters and make them more accessible. Library and archives staff catalogued each poster individually, before sending them to the conservation lab where conservators used a humidification process to flatten rolled posters. By temporarily introducing humidity to the posters, the paper becomes more supple so that conservators can unroll and flatten posters without causing undue stress to the paper or risking damage to the poster. Once flattened, staff in the Electronic Cataloging and Imaging (ECI) department took high-resolution photographs of the posters. Finally, Library and Archives staff transferred posters back to storage and ECI staff linked photographs to the posters’ catalog records. The digitized posters included here are but a small sample of the many included in the IGRA Institutional Archives at the Autry!
Images (Click image for details):
- Poster for the Los Angeles Rodeo, Golden State Gay Rodeo Association, 1990. IGRA Institutional Archives, Autry Museum; MSA.26.3.18
- Poster for the IGRA Rodeo Finals, International Gay Rodeo Association, 1992. IGRA Institutional Archives, Autry Museum; MSA.26.3.3
- Poster for the Road Runner Regional Rodeo, Arizona Gay Rodeo Association with the Utah Gay Rodeo Association, 1992. IGRA Institutional Archives, Autry Museum; MSA.26.3.20
- Poster for the Greater Northwest International Rodeo, 1993. IGRA Institutional Archives, Autry Museum; MSA.26.3.24
- Poster for the Bay Area Regional Rodeo, Golden State Gay Rodeo Association, 1994. IGRA Institutional Archives, Autry Museum; MSA.26.3.41
- Poster for the Zia Regional Rodeo, New Mexico Gay Rodeo Association, 1997. IGRA Institutional Archives; MSA.26.3.19
- Poster for the Great Plains Regional Rodeo, Great Plains Gay Rodeo Association, 1994. IGRA Institutional Archives; MSA.26.3.37
- Poster for the Atlantic Stampede, Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association, 1995. IGRA Institutional Archives; MSA.26.3.27
- Poster for the Pikes Peak United Rodeo, Colorado Gay Rodeo Association, 1995. IGRA Institutional Archives; MSA.26.3.28
- Poster for the North Star Regional Rodeo, North Star Gay Rodeo Association, 1994. IGRA Institutional Archive; MSA.26.3.45