Gay rodeo tests tolerance in Arkansas, hotbed of rights fight
By Steve Barnes
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Reuters) - On a clear Arkansas spring afternoon after a day of horse riding, Wade Earp sighed and said, "I wish we didn't have to have a gay rodeo. I wish we could just rodeo."
Earp was a contestant at the International Gay Rodeo event held last month in Arkansas, a Bible Belt state on the front lines of the fight over gay rights and one of the 13 U.S. states where same-sex marriage is not recognized.
"Everybody deserves equal treatment. Everybody deserves equal rights," said Earp, 45, a native of Benton, Arkansas, where he was raised in a fundamentalist Christian denomination, and a competitor in barrel racing, calf roping and steer riding.
The sixteenth Diamond State Rodeo held in Little Rock drew 75 contestants, far outnumbering spectators, from a dozen states and Canada, all hoping to qualify for the International Gay Rodeo 2016 finals in Las Vegas.
"For years, no one would allow us to advertise it," said Sandy Bidwell, president of the Diamond State event, for fear protesters would create a disturbance.
"My attitude is, let them. It's free advertising."
This year, they put up a sign directing traffic to the event, and no protesters came.
For two days, gays and lesbians and at least one transgender man competed in barrel racing and bull riding on the soft soil of a fairgrounds arena at the rodeo that looked like just about every small-scale rodeo held across the country. Continued...