Welcome to the Wild West

By Tamara Juarez, March 2017 Issue.

Grab your cowboy hat, your chaps, some sunscreen and your ice-cold beverage of choice and get to the 32nd annual Arizona Gay Rodeo, which will be heating up the Corona Ranch and Rodeo Grounds from Feb. 17 to 19.

This year’s competition, which is part of the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) circuit, will include such classic events as bull riding, team roping, chute dogging and pole bending, as well as a new ranch-style bronc riding competition. And then there’s the camp events (you know, the ones that make it a gay rodeo), which include steer decorating, goat dressing and the wild drag race.

Photos by Bill Gemmill.

“There should be something for everybody,” said Ron Trusley, Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA) president. “This year we’re looking to have a little more entertainment outside the arena for people and families that may be there with their kids. We’ll have mechanical bulls and ongoing performances all day inside the pavilion.”

Additionally, Trusley shared, attendees can expect dancing, food, music and shows by the state’s most popular drag kings and queens.

Rodeo weekend will kick off Feb. 17 with Sophia Sinclair’s Hootenanny Jamboree – complete with the annual pie-eating contest and chili cook-off – and the 2017 Country Idol finale, which will feature live performances by each of the karaoke contest’s finalists, and the official welcome of the 2017 AGRA royalty.

The following day, Feb. 18, will feature a wide variety of entertainment, including Las Vegas performer Kenneth Blake and such Phoenix drag legends as Pussy LeHoot, Tyra Myra and Miss Gay Arizona America 2016 Savannah Stevens.

Stevens, a Reba McEntire and Cher impersonator of 15 years, will take the stage twice: first in the Miss Gay Arizona America Show, at 5:30 p.m. and second in Divas Live!, at 7 p.m., in which Blake will also perform as Madonna and Dolly Parton.

“I love the Arizona Gay Rodeo,” Stevens said. “I’m looking forward to seeing all of my friends and making new ones while enjoying all the activities the association has to offer.”

The ever-poised, award-winning drag queen added that she is ready to give her audience a show they won’t soon forget.

“I consider myself a professional and well-rounded entertainer and [attendees can expect] drag, dance and comedy acts,” she said.

The rodeo entertainment lineup, which will take place inside the dance hall, will also include appearances by the Heatwave Dance Troupe, Tradiciones Dance Company, Desafio Latino con Gipsy and Nikki Starr’s Royal Court.

While the rodeo entertainment won’t kick off until 2 p.m. Feb. 18 and 3 p.m. Feb. 19, the gates will open at 9 a.m. both days and people of all ages, sexual orientations and gender identities are welcome.

Trusley, who got involved with the association after joining a square-dancing group called the Midnight Ramblers, said that the Arizona Gay Rodeo has made an active effort to be as inclusive and welcoming towards all communities,

“[Arizona Gay Rodeo] Association’s mission is to promote the country-western lifestyle and to be an open association for anybody, gay or nongay,” he said. “I like being with people of other associations and different states that come here to compete, and to see the camaraderie between all the contestants, officials, staff and attendees.”

The gay rodeo is always on the lookout for new members and contestants. To increase community involvement, the Arizona Gay Rodeo has added several events throughout the past few years, including a chili cook-off contest, Country Idol, a karaoke competition and rodeo school, the opportunity to train alongside professional cowboys and cowgirls with years of experience handling ranch animals.

As a nonprofit organization, AGRA uses most of it’s the funds raise throughout rodeo weekend to help fund future rodeos and local charities. According to Richie Josef, the rodeo’s marketing director, AGRA may donate to up to five nonprofits this year, compared to only one during previous years.

“This three-day event is geared more toward the LGBT[Q] community, and it just really shows the loyalty of residents and families from around the state,” Josef said. “Our association makes rodeo more inviting for all communities, and it’s something that is very different, especially for people who have never attended a rodeo. The Arizona Gay Rodeo is definitely something they’ll remember.”

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