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Cowboys, Straight & Gay, Unhappy With Brokeback Mountain'


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Cowboys, Straight & Gay, Unhappy With Brokeback Mountain'

by Bill Graveland, Canadian Press

February 13, 2006 - 9:00 pm ET

(High River, Alberta) For Grant McKinney, a real-life gay cowboy, parallels between his life and those of the conflicted main characters in Brokeback Mountain are easy to see.

But he figures the realistic portrayals in the Oscar-nominated Hollywood blockbuster, while they have garnered much public sympathy, are unlikely to change many minds in the long run.

``It's stuff that has been happening for years. It's just someone has finally had the initiative to put it in our faces,'' said McKinney, 44, who has trained horses in Alberta for more than 20 years.

``People are going on and on about Brokeback Mountain and how it's such a groundbreaker but you know what? Get over it. It's not a groundbreaker.

``It's just set in a rural setting with `masculine' cowboys, where gay people are usually stereotyped as effeminate.''

Sitting at the kitchen table of his log home at Prairie Wind Stables, 45 miles south of Calgary, McKinney described growing up on a farm in what he called a typical redneck Alberta family. Like the two characters in the movie, McKinney got married, not acknowledging he was any different. It's something many men deal with, he said.

``Some people accept it, some people deny it, get married and live a secret life, and some people just don't live with it at all.''

Brokeback Mountain is set in Wyoming beginning in the 1960s but filmed in southern Alberta, where many people take pride in their western heritage. The cowboy life is celebrated at the world-famous Calgary Stampede and the area is the heart of ranching country.

Calgary is also home to Canada's only gay rodeo, where entrants compete in traditional events like bareback bronc riding and calf roping or the humorous ``camp events'' of goat dressing, steer decorating and wild drag race.

``It's just a reality that people don't want to accept - especially in the good old boy province of Alberta,'' said McKinney, who competed twice and won a buckle at the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo.

You won't see anything like the Stampede marketing machine there. The Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association has remained low-key ever since a newspaper photographer shot an unauthorized photo that outed one of its members 13 years ago.

The success of Brokeback Mountain has, if anything, drawn unwanted attention to the gay rodeo, said association spokesman Patrick J., who declined to give his last name.

``There are things that the movie points out that are extremely accurate. People do lose their employment when they're known to be gay,'' he said. ``I don't think that has changed much in some circles.

``That's why we're cautious of media exposure and coverage in our own organization, because it has repercussions in the daily lives of our members.''

The rodeo usually draws about 3,000 fans, and organizers expect movie-driven curiosity might draw more this year.

That's already been the case in the United States, which boasts an active gay rodeo circuit.

Steve Wollert of the International Gay Rodeo Association said that while Brokeback Mountain may not change the way people think, it does have people talking.

``Gay cowboys were really, really popular after another movie came out in the 1980s - Urban Cowboy - so it's very reminiscent of that,'' Wollert, who is the reigning Mr. International Gay Rodeo, chuckled from San Diego.

``Not just necessarily is the straight community accepting us but even within our own community, it's cool to be a cowboy again.''

Back in Alberta, McKinney and his partner haven't rushed to see the movie but intend to at some point.

They won't won't be seeing Robin Burwash there, though. Now 47 and retired from rodeo, Burwash was a four-time Canadian bareback champion, two-time winner at the Calgary Stampede and the 1988 Cowboy of the Year. And definitely not gay.

``I don't believe in what they do and so I darn sure wouldn't pay money to go and condone it or to help sell it or promote it,'' he said of the movie.

Burwash understands his views aren't shared by everyone but offers no apologies.

``Is that redneck? Is that homophobic? No. It's standing up for what's right and what's wrong in our minds.''

It's also unfortunate, said Stephen Lock of Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere. He gives Brokeback Mountain top marks for its realistic love story.

``Those of us who are gay or gay supportive - it's like preaching to the choir. It reaffirms what we know,'' Lock explained.

``Those who you want to see it are those who react against any suggestion that being gay is quite normal - that's who you want to see it.''

©365Gay.com 2006


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