Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

Jock Talk: All-women rodeo team headed to Gay Games


Deb Freeman of Team Sunshine, an all-women rodeo team that is headed to the Gay Games. Photo: Courtesy Deb Freeman
Print this Page
Send to a Friend
Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on MySpace!

For nearly two decades, Deb Freeman of Morgan Hill was an active rider on the gay rodeo circuit, winning several All Around Cowgirl titles until half a dozen back surgeries forced her to retire from the saddle in 2001. The past 14 years she's continued to coach and help train fellow members of Team Sunshine, an all-women's team competing in the Bay Area chapter of the International Gay Rodeo Association. This summer, at the age of 57, she and her wife, Karen Beavers, are going to do something they've never done before.

They're going to march in the opening ceremonies of the Gay Games.

"This will be the first time the Gay Games is having rodeo as an affiliated event," Freeman said. "We decided this would be a once-in-a lifetime trip."

Not a cheap one, however. Team Sunshine hopes to take five women and four horses and travel in a caravan with other rodeo friends across the country for five days to Akron, Ohio, where the rodeo will be held August 10-11, then trek five days back, medals in hoof and hand.

"We're trying to raise about $10,000 for this trip," Freeman said. "It will cost us about that much. It's very difficult to get any kind of sponsorship. Everyone has a full-time day job and uses our personal funds. We pretty much support ourselves."

The amount of money involved is one reason why rodeo has never been in the Gay Games even though one of the Gay Games founders, Paul Mart, was a rodeo rider, and why this go-round it is an "affiliated" event rather than one which awards Gay Games golds and silvers. Rodeo riders compete for cash prizes and that's more than just a cultural distinction from the amateur status of the main Gay Games sports: it's a financial necessity to help underwrite the cost of feeding and maintaining the horses and livestock.

IGRA's hope is that holding a rodeo in a Gay Games setting will expose the sport to queer folks who would otherwise never encounter it.

"Over the years, rodeo has dwindled in numbers for various reasons and this is a good opportunity to show it to people," Freeman said. "There's just not the attraction of the younger folks to the rodeo and I don't know why that is. It's just not happening and I wish I knew why. That's why this is important. It's a good opportunity for us."

I asked Freeman what the appeal of rodeo was for her, and the answer was pretty much as I expected: people and horses.

"Four of us women kind of formed the team over 20 years and started training and riding together," she said. "The horses are the biggest appeal. They're not just our rodeo horses, they're our family. We love being around them. The [international] association is amazing. We've made incredible friends throughout the country who will be friends for life. It's just great. You compete against each other, but because of the horses and the fact we know what it takes to get to where we're at, there's just a bond we form with one another."

Those bonds are indeed strong. Beavers, for instance, did not ride or own horses until she met Freeman in the 1990s. They were married October 25, 2008 before the passage of Proposition 8, California's now-defunct same-sex marriage ban. Team member Dianna Fleming did not discover horse riding until she met Freeman and now competes along with her partner, Linda Pieters.

I asked Freeman about protests from animal rights groups, which have appeared at rodeos – gay and straight – for years.

"Over the years we have experienced that at quite a number of our rodeos, but it has not been an issue at our rodeos for several years because we treat each our horses and our livestock as well as we treat each other. Contractors are carefully vetted for livestock handling, making sure, for instance, they don't use any 'shock' techniques to move animals along. Our personal horses are part of our family so we wouldn't do anything to hurt them."

Information on Team Sunshine and how to become a sponsor, as well as pictures of their horses, are available at Information on Gay Games rodeo is available at The website for IGRA is


Protest works

A social media blitz organized by 19 swimmers and conducted through online petitions and blog postings has caused the nomination of USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus to the International Swimming Hall of Fame to be withdrawn on the grounds that under his watch he enabled sexually abusive coaches to operate with impunity.

Olympians such as gay diver Greg Louganis and swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar spoke out against Wielgus's induction, which would have occurred with 14 other inductees on June 13 in Fort Lauderdale, and a petition drew more than 800 signatures.


Lawsuit filed for locker room access

The Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund has filed a lawsuit against the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for denying a 24-year-old transgender man access to a men's locker room at a public pool on Staten Island.

TLDEF said that on July 21, 2013, Bryan Elliott was asked by personnel at the Joseph H. Lyons Pool in Staten Island to leave the men's locker room and use the women's locker room instead.

"What happened to Bryan happens to many transgender people when they use restrooms and locker rooms," said Michael Silverman, executive director of the fund. "Incidents like this one severely restrict the ability of transgender people to fully participate in society. Being able to use a restroom without harassment and discrimination is essential to being able to do things like work or use public places. This lawsuit sends a strong message: everyone should have equal access to public facilities. Transgender people cannot be treated as less than full citizens and be denied the use of restrooms and locker rooms just because of who they are."

Follow The Bay Area Reporter
facebook logo
facebook logo
Newsletter logo
Newsletter logo
ISSUU logo