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Real Brokeback Cowboys Still Grapple With Discrimination

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Real Brokeback Cowboys Still Grapple With Discrimination

by The Associated Press

May 28, 2006 - 11:00 am ET

(Oklahoma City, Oklahoma) Jamie Lodzinski is proud of the bruises earned from battling bulls and broncos three times his size. He's proud of the trophies and jeweled belt buckles that signify rodeo victories.

Most of all, he's proud of his name.

Jamie Lodzinski. Hardened. Masculine.

Jamie Lodzinski. Gay rodeo cowboy.

Lodzinski joined more than 130 competitors - gay and straight - for the Oklahoma Gay Rodeo Association's 21st annual Great Plains Rodeo over the weekend at State Fair Park.

Lodzinski will compete under his given name with pride. He said many of the rodeo's contestants can't afford to do the same.

They "are open when they are among us, with their friends," said Lodzinski, who coordinated the event with his partner, K.W. "But when they're competing, they can't take that chance of their names getting out."

So the contestants adopt aliases.

Some- such as Lodzinski's partner- simply use their initials. Others choose the equivalent of an online screen name or change their names altogether.

"It's not something we want to do," said Lodzinski, who added that there are several gay cowboys competing on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and International Finals Rodeo Association circuits throughout the year.

Lodzinski has never used an alias during competition, but he's a special case. For the majority of those in the gay rodeo, a name is a liability. It's dangerous.

Some competitors have jobs outside the arena. Many are active members of local churches and civic groups.

Unsolicited discovery - or outing - could damage careers, reputations and lives.

"We have competitors and attendees that are schoolteachers and military," said K.W., who works in the insurance business. "They just can't afford to expose who they really are, in fear of losing their jobs."

After a gay rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, last fall, a member of the Oklahoma Gay Rodeo Association was beaten and threatened at gunpoint outside the hotel where he was staying. The cowboy survived, but the event was a grave reminder to K.W. that hostility remains.

"Until we change the way society views us, then that's unfortunately going to continue," K.W. said.

Despite the thousands expected in attendance and the $1.5 million to $2 million expected in economic impact, the rodeo is still a tough sell.

According to the rodeo directors, some prominent Oklahoma businesses won't support the Great Plains Rodeo because it's a gay event, and even contestants won't use their real names.

This year, organizers worked out a deal with Oklahoma's Bud Light distributor to make the brewing company the grand sponsor for the Great Plains Rodeo. LOGO, MTV Networks' new gay and lesbian channel, is another prominent sponsor.

©365Gay.com 2006

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