Gay rodeo

The 2014 Hot Rodeo’s Riderless Horse ceremony, commemorating friends and supporters who passed away.

The Golden State Gay Rodeo Association’s Hot Rodeo returns this weekend to Banning’s Dysart Park.

The gay rodeo has taken place in Banning for the past several years, providing a venue for gay athletes and their allies to participate in a family-friendly atmosphere, hosting a lot of events that would occur at any rodeo: calf-roping, team-roping, steer wrestling and riding, rough stock events such as bull riding, bareback bronc riding, steer riding, chute dogging; equestrian events, including flag planting, barrel racing, team roping, pole bending and pole weaving.

And some of those events have a gay twist: steer decorating with ribbons; team goat dressing — right down to undergarments — can be entertaining, points out Jeff Rosenberg, president of the Greater Palm Springs Chapter of GSGRA. There will also be steer decorating, and wild drag racing involving three contestants (one dressed in drag) and a steer.

Nearly 100 cowboys and cowgirls will perform before 1,500 spectators during the weekend of May 2-3, when events start at Dysart Park. Activities in the park start at noon; preceding events in Palm Springs take place that Thursday and Friday evening (http://www.hotrodeo.org for details and registration information and discounts on tickets).

Participants don’t have to be gay to compete. “We don’t ask you what your sexuality is” to register, Rosenberg says.

“I love your Stagecoach Days. It’s a fun event,” Rosenberg says, referring to the city’s main Wild West event scheduled for Sept. 11-13 this year. “Banning has an incredible stadium for our needs: the arena, the bleachers, the parking — we hosted it in Palm Springs one year, and had to bring in our own dirt, our own bleachers. Banning just has a nice set-up. We really want the community to come out to our event,” profits of which go to various charities: more than $3,000 has been given to the City of Banning. The Life Group of Los Angeles and the Palm Springs LGBT Community Center have also been recipients of the Hot Rodeo’s charitable giving.

According to Banning Community Services Director Heidi Meraz, proceeds from the Hot Rodeo have been used to purchase equipment and uniforms for the city’s youth sports leagues.

Thirty years ago, Rosenberg says, “It wasn’t safe to be ‘out’ and open as a gay athlete. Lots of people raised around horses and related events wanted a safe place to compete,” and points out, “It’s no different than other gay athletic programs: there are gay softball leagues, Gay Games” equivalent to the Olympics. Back in the day, “Athletes wanted to compete under assumed names, since some of them also competed professionally.”

Men and women who participate at the Hot Rodeo compete at “all levels, in all events,” he says.

Registration is $25 per event, per day. Athletes compete for prizes and points in the IGRA circuit, and everyone competes for a coveted grand prize — an ornate Wild West belt buckle.

The Hot Rodeo, sponsored by the Palm Springs chapter of the Golden State Rodeo Association, is a nonprofit organization that works with a $50,000 budget.

In 2014, the Hot Rodeo and the Greater Palm Springs Chapter donated $2,000 to The Life Group LA, $1,000 to the Palm Springs LGBT Community Center, and $1,000 to the Banning scholarship opportunities for activities and recreation program.

The same groups will be beneficiaries this year, and the Hot Rodeo has added White Rock Horse Rescue to the list of 2015’s recipients.

Dysart Park is at 2101 W. Victory Ave. in Banning. Rodeo admission at the gate is $20; children 12 and under are admitted free.

Staff Writer David James Heiss may be reached at dheiss@recordgazette.net.

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Staff Writer

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