Cowboy Up

By Laura Latzko, Feb. 12, 2015.

The sport of rodeo is steeped in tradition. And, as one of the first gay rodeos in the nation, the Arizona Gay Rodeo celebrates its 30th anniversary this year.

The 2015 rodeo, and related events, will take place from Feb. 13 to 15 at Corona Ranch and serve as the formal kick-off to rodeo season.

In honor of the Arizona Gay Rodeo’s milestone anniversary, the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA) has added special entertainers, guests and sponsors to create a bigger and better three-day-weekend event.

According to Todd Wyckoff, AGRA marketing director, every year AGRA aims to grow the rodeo and make it even more of a party atmosphere to attract more diverse and larger crowds.

“We try to get people out there who might never have been to a rodeo [and] give them other reasons to come out,” he said.

So, whether you pride yourself in your roping skills or you just want a new outlet to show your LGBT pride, here are the six things you need to know about rodeo weekend.

Photos by Fernando Hernández.

1. The Grand Entry

As part of the grand entry, the parade-like spectacle accompanying the rodeo, AGRA generally honors individuals who have contributed to the AGRA or IGRA, celebrities and political figures with the grand marshal title.

This year Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and Bob Hitchcock, the rodeo’s bar manager for the past two years and the former coordinator of Men of Charlie’s, will serve as the grand marshals.

And, in honor of three decades of AGRA, there will be surprise guests during the grand entry each day.

“We are honoring and recognizing community individuals who have been there throughout the 30 years,” Wyckoff said, adding that AGRA also plans to showcase historic pictures commemorating its 30-year history.

Photos by Fernando Hernández.

2. The Entertainment

American Idol’s season seven finalist David Hernandez will headline this year’s entertainment.

Hernandez, who caused a stir on the show for his past as a stripper, is originally from Arizona. The soulful R&B singer, songwriter and actor has been performing since childhood and released his debut EP, I Am Who I Am, in 2011.

In addition to Hernandez, current and past pageant royalty, the winner of this year’s Country Idol, local band Cowboy Surprise, local drag entertainers, mariachi performers, dancers and singers will share the stage throughout the weekend.

According to Bob Pimentel, rodeo director, the expansion in entertainment lineup this year will contribute to a more of a festive atmosphere and encourage attendees stick around, spectate and socialize.

“We make a big party out of it because what we started out being and what we continue being is a way to raise money for nonprofit organizations,” Pimentel said.

The entertainment lineup includes: The Phoenix Heatwave line dance troupe, former Miss Gay Arizona USofA Newcomer Diamond Dallas, The Lady Christian Gospel Hour, Barbra Seville’s Phoenix Phollies drag performance group, Pandora and the Gender Funk, singers Jesus Osuna and Jennifer Ortiz, dancer and impersonator Shari Cherie and vehicles on display courtesy of Lambda Car Club.

Photos by Fernando Hernández.

3. Location, Location, Location

When Arizona put on its first gay rodeo, the Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds was just a La Charro Mexican rodeo arena with a dance hall. But, after getting its start at Corona Ranch, the rodeo moved to Rawhide Western Towns in Scottsdale and then Wild Horse Pass in Chandler before moving back to its original location in 2013.

According to Wyckoff, Corona Ranch offers a more fan-friendly, centrally located venue that allows attendees to easily navigate from the rodeo grounds to the entertainment area.

Corona Ranch offers an intimate arena with seating on all sides, a dance hall with a stage for entertainment and an outdoor fireplace and a fountain. Inside the venue, vendors will have everything from Western wear to LGBT-related art for sale.

Additionally, Pimentel said that moving the event back to Corona Ranch has allowed the rodeo to make money again so that AGRA can continue to donate to local charities.

Last year, AGRA donated $14,000 to local charities, including Joshua Tree Feeding Program, PFLAG, one n ten and the Community Church of Hope.

Photos by Fernando Hernández.

4. The Main Event

Approximately 50 contestants, from within Arizona as well as nearby states, including New Mexico, California and Nevada, will compete in the rodeo.

Participants receive a certain number of points depending how they finish in different events. The points earned at individual rodeos are then tallied up points earned at toward their total scores for the season.

Doing well in Arizona can get contestants off to a good start for the gay rodeo season, which runs from February through September. The top 20 contestants in each event advance to the World Rodeo Finals, which will take place in Las Vegas in October.

“We have a lot of … fierce competitors,” Pimentel said. “They compete in gay and straight rodeos.”

For the most part gay rodeo participants train and compete in the same events as their straight counterparts. However, gay rodeos include three camp events: steer decorating, goat dressing and wild drag race.

Standard speed, roping and roughstock rodeo events include bull riding, chute dogging, barrel racing, pole bending, flag race, steer riding, mounted break-away roping, calf roping on foot and team roping.

According to Pimentel, speed, roping and camp events tend to be more popular than roughstock events in gay rodeos. This year, each event will be preceded with an explanation of the objective.

To generate interest in rodeo events and help amateur cowboys and cowgirls to improve their skills, AGRA hosts a rodeo school that includes clinics on variety of events, including barrel racing for the first time ever.

5. The Associations

The Arizona Gay Rodeo Association was one of the five founding members of the International Gay Rodeo Association, an organization with 25 local rodeo associations and more than 5,000 members.

Established in 1985, the IGRA is dedicated to providing a safe place for LGBT cowboys and cowgirls to compete, break stereotypes and raise money for charity.

Throughout the year, cowboys and cowgirls can attend 13 gay rodeos, which take place in Arizona, Fort Lauderdale, Little Rock, Palm Springs, Dallas, Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, Calgary, Denver, Minneapolis, Santa Fe, Kansas City and San Francisco.

AGRA is currently made up of more than 200 regular members and has seen recent growth.

While word of mouth and prior attendance are central to gaining new members, Wyckoff said the backgrounds of incoming individuals range from previous exposure to farm or ranch life to no horse riding experience, just a desire to become involved in the LGBT community.

6. The Details

This year, the number of party buses going to and from the rodeo grounds has expanded. A party bus ticket earns guests admission to the rodeo, $10 in drink tickets, drinks on the bus and transportation to and from the festivities.

On Saturday buses depart Charlie’s Phoenix, 727 W. Camelback Road, for Corona Ranch every hour from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and return every hour from 6 to 9 p.m. On Sunday, buses depart Charlie’s at noon and leave the rodeo grounds at 6 p.m.

Hotel 502, 502 W. Camelback Road, in Phoenix is this year’s host hotel. The hotel will offer a $79 room rate during the rodeo. Rodeo goers can make reservations by mentioning the Arizona Gay Rodeo when calling 602-264-9290.

Additionally, free shuttles will run between Charlie’s, Hotel 502 and Corona Ranch Friday evening and all day Saturday and Sunday, with a three-hour break from 2 to 5 p.m.

The Corona Ranch RV Park offers packages from $35 to $80 for RVs. Tent camping is $5 per night. For more information, visit

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