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Queens & Cowboys explores gay cowboy culture

By Melanie Bethune, September 25 2014 —

Wade Earp is a cowboy in every sense of the word. Calling Texas home, he drives his pickup truck and horse trailer thousands of miles across North America every year to compete in bull-riding, roping, barrel racing and countless other events. His story has all of the workings of a classic Western story — an arch-nemesis competitor lurking in the shadows, a faithful devotion to his horse Digit, a Stetson and a thick southern drawl. Wade Earp is a cowboy and Wade Earp is an out and proud gay man.

Matt Livadary’s documentary Queens and Cowboys: A Straight Year on the Gay Rodeo, which makes its Canadian premiere at the Calgary International Film Festival (CIFF), follows cowboys like Earp as they compete on the International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) circuit. For Earp, the goal is to win the coveted title of All Around Cowboy, while for participants such as Char Duran, a lesbian bull-rider from Colorado, simply winning a belt buckle is a test of heart and spirit. 

The film focuses on five IGRA members, including Earp and Duran, but touches on countless personalities.

“I filmed 800 hours of footage by the end of it, which is insane. There were almost dozens and dozens of characters that I was following and stories that I fell in love with,” Livadary says. “Who ended up making it in the film was who represented a very strong feature of at least one characteristic of the cowboy code. You know — honesty, integrity, hard work, community, heart.”

The film follows a rodeo season and the cowboy code, while speaking to issues of LGBTQA+ identity in the context of conservative cowboy culture. The film focuses on the intersection of these two worlds and how they come together to create a family-like community.

“We showed [the film] in Dallas. This girl came up to Wade afterwards in tears and said, ‘I’m a 16-year-old girl from rural Texas and I have a pastor for a father and a very conservative upbringing, but my family doesn’t know that I’m bi.’ She posted it right on Facebook and came out to her family and all of her friends immediately after seeing that it was OK,” Livadary says. “In this day and age people still don’t know that there are good role models out there who exist.”

Livadary and his team attended dozens of rodeos across North America for the project. One segment was filmed close to Calgary.

“[In] Calgary itself, the rodeo is incredible. The people from the Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo chapter are just so passionate and fired up and energized. They work so hard to make those rodeos happen,” Livadary says. “It was a pretty amazing. It was one of my favourite rodeos, for sure.”

As for the film’s premiere at CIFF, Livadary is anticipating the reaction of Calgary audiences.

“We’ve played in some places where it is rodeo-centric, for lack of a better term, but none as big as Calgary. It’s going to be interesting to see how the film plays to people in rodeo, who love rodeo,” Livadary says. “It will put us to the test and see if we’ve got it with people who know and love rodeo.”

Prepare to laugh, cheer and to even get a little misty-eyed as this film comes stampeding through Calgary as part of CIFF. 

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