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"So a bunch of us founding members got rid of all the people who were in it for all the wrong reasons," says Kole Hillman, a former FGRA president. "We cleaned house."
A lot of the rancor settled on board member Bobby Fender, a longtime rodeo contestant from the Orlando area. According to him, most of the allegations were baseless. But by the time he and others resigned in 2012, they were scapegoated. "With any gay association, you are always going to have some drama," he says. "I hate it, but gay associations tend to eat their own. They have accused people of stealing, but when you asked for the proof, there is none. Most people would say that if you don't have any evidence, you keep your mouth shut."
As part of the process, Fender and others were put in "bad standing" by the IGRA. When the mud started sailing, Janine Pardee says she was ducking for cover and confused. She asked the reinstalled FGRA leadership for hard evidence about the allegations against people she considered friends. No one ever produced a smoking gun.
"So I dropped my membership," Pardee explains. "Then I tried to renew my membership so maybe I could help influence the next election and they basically ignored my application."
At the time, FGRA hadn't submitted plans for a new rodeo. Pardee and the other ousted members decided to fill the gap. "It is a lot more fun to compete than to be involved in any of the politics," she says. "So we formed our own association and quit fighting."
(Brian Helander, a spokesman for IGRA, declined to talk about specifics on Florida's situation. "At the current time, there are a couple of members in bad standing," he said, speaking generally. "From time to time, we do have to look at certain aspects of conduct, and we do so.")
The new group — the Gold Coast Rodeo Association — has yet to be approved by the IGRA. Until then, it can't hold its own rodeo. The Gold Coast crowd, however, says that Florida is big enough for two separate rodeo groups and that it'll get approved eventually.
"The state of Florida is so vast that one association simply can't cater to the entire state," Fender says. "FGRA used to be heavily active in Fort Lauderdale because the rodeo was there. In recent years, it's been more active on the west coast, leaving the east coast vacant." The new group would cater more to the region between Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.
No one has really hosed out the bad aftertaste. Garrett says the previous group hasn't handed over the passwords to the organization's QuickBooks. Pardee says the FGRA still wouldn't take her back in the fold for this year's rodeo season. "For the previous two years, I was the top female point earner, and they wouldn't let me renew." Instead, she signed up with an Arizona IGRA affiliate.
With the bad blood still coursing, Pardee says it might be responsible for the lower number of competitors at this year's stampede — 53, compared to the usual 70s and 80s. Folks steered clear of the drama. "All that bickering had an effect," she explains. "Some people just didn't want to come."
Gold Coast plans to hold its own rodeo in Fort Lauderdale next year. "Hopefully the area can recapture what the Fort Lauderdale rodeo used to be," Fender says. "Gay people love to talk, they love to gossip, and it's going to take some PR work to get it back."
But Florida's squabbles are sideshow compared to the big-picture problems facing gay rodeo, issues that have more to do with cultural tectonics than personality conflicts. Ironically, it's the great jumps gay Americans have made in recent years that have outpaced the IGRA.
"When Phil Ragsdale started it, gay rodeo was the only real place where people could be open," Frank Harrell explains. "That's no longer the case. We can be open on practically most city streets around the country. The rodeo isn't acting as a release point anymore."
Lipham ticks them off casually like items on a to-do list. There was the shattered collarbone (surgery, metal plate). Then busted ribs (broken again three months later). And a punctured spleen. "I told them to go ahead and take it; I don't need it," she says, her voice, as always, kind and animated, like an adult reading bedtime stories to a child.
Lipham's time in the arena has earned her three belt buckles and shamed every weekend warrior who dares to hobble off a basketball court griping about something as minor as a stiff back. But her passion goes beyond the hardware. She's welded her whole being to a few intense seconds on the animal. "It's how I identify," she says. "I'm Karey the bull rider."
Which makes this Sunday morning bittersweet for Lipham as she walks around the arena, waiting for Advil to smother out the aches from yesterday's run-in with Freckles. She's calling it quits. The bull rider and her partner have decided to have a baby. Lipham will carry the child. The spurs and chaps are going on the shelf.
gay rodeo circuit? GOOD GOD ENOUGH......if the picture of the fudge packing rump ranger cowboy with the fag rainbow on his girl rear isn't enough to make anyone wanna vomit, i don't know what is....TO ALL rear diving butt men and ALL chicken rug munching dykes or in terms that homos will understand...ALL fags, PLEASE GO AWAY...You're utterly disgusting in every way and we're sick of having to hear and even seeing(picture above) you butt backwards fanukes
Gay or straight, these rodeo people are sadistic animal abusers and they make me sick. I hope they all get trampled, kicked or gored by the animals they torment and torture for their drunken amusement.