image of Mahlon

Mahlon Lovell

Mahlon Lovell was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and moved to Arizona when he was about one year old. He was introduced to gay rodeo through his volunteer work with the Joshua Tree Feeding Program and has been a member of the Arizona Gay Rodeo Association since about 2014. Mahlon is a member of IGRA royalty; he fundraises for the IGRA, frequently volunteers at rodeos, and is also an active member of many IGRA-associated charities. Mahlon was Mr. IGRA First Runner Up 2020.

Interview Location: Denver, Colorado

Date: November 22, 2019 | Interviewer: Renae Campbell

Go to Transcript

Renae Campbell: All right, so we're recording an interview. This is Renae Campbell and I'm here with Mahlon Lovell—did I say it right?

Mahlon Lovell: Lovell. Lovell.

RC: Lovell. Um, and we—it's November 11, 2019—and we are at the International Gay Rodeo Convention in Denver, Colorado. And so, can you start by telling me where you were born?

ML: Well, I was born in Taipei, Taiwan, actually.

RC: Oh.

ML: Yeah. And my dad was in the Air Force, so that's where he met my mom. So, and then I’ve lived in the United States probably since I was one, if not right before.

RC: Okay. So, then where did you move to when you moved to the…?

ML: So, then my family—my dad and I—moved to Phoenix, Arizona, when I was three. So that's where I pretty much grew up. So, I’m from Phoenix. And, uh, yeah.

RC: Okay. So, did you—would you consider that more of an urban upbringing? Or a rural upbringing?

ML: Um, urban upbringing. I was more urban ‘cause I was in the central city. So, yeah. But I have friends who lived in the rural areas.

RC: And did you—were you around horses or cattle at all as a young person? Or was that later?

ML: No, it's—again, I have some friends and I did do some traveling when I was a kid. I got to go to camps and stuff like that. So, I—actually, ironically, growing up, there used to be a horse property around the corner from my apartment, which was right there in the middle of the city. Because there are still some areas in Phoenix that have horse properties in the city. And so, I’m familiar with horses. I wasn’t brought up with horses, and I didn’t ride them regularly. But I’ve had experiences with horses—a little bit.

RC: Okay. And did you go to high school there, as well, in Phoenix?

ML: For the year that I went, yes. [laughs]

RC: That counts!

ML: I got my GED. So, yeah.

RC: Where did you go to get your GED?

ML: At one of the community colleges in Phoenix.

RC: Okay. And then, how did you become involved with this?

ML: Ironically, I was kind of involved with, I—my first experience with rodeo was probably about twenty-five years ago. I went to Phoenix. Phoenix has—is part of the IGRA, so they have a rodeo in, back then, I believe it was January. And I went to my very first gay rodeo. I was probably about 23, 24. And then, later that year, I went to my second gay rodeo, which was in California. And that was really my big experience. Because the first one, I was just there and walking around partying and drinking but the next one, I was actually looking to see what was going on with the rodeo and everything else.

But then, I didn't get reacquainted with the gay rodeo until probably about—probably about six or seven—no, it's been about nine years ago. I was part of a nonprofit organization in Phoenix, and the rodeo, and one of the other organizations that was attached to the rodeo. My organization was one of their beneficiaries. So, I would have to go and participate in those things. And so, when we would set up booths at the rodeo, I would volunteer. You know, doing the—watching the gates, opening the gates for the tractors and stuff like that to clean the fields and all. And then, later on, I was asked to become part of the organization that helped out at—ran the rodeos. And the Gay Games were in Cleveland a few years ago. And that year, they included the International Gay Rodeo Association, and so they included the rodeo in the Gay Games. So, I got to go and participate in part of that. And, yeah, ever since, I got more and more involved. Then I got asked to become—to try and be a royalty member. And this is—this was my second try and I got, I got on the team.

RC: And so, you are currently royalty.

ML: I am currently—I am current royalty. I'm First Runner Up for the Mr. title for the IGRA.

RC: Congratulations.

ML: Um, and… [Mahlon enters into a side conversation with an IGRA member, to protect privacy, approximately 4 seconds were deleted from the audio track and not transcribed] …I will be current as of the first of the year. I’m 2020. So, I’m Mr. IGRA First Runner Up 2020.

RC: So, you’re the 2020?

ML: Yes. Yes. [Voice of IGRA member in background, to protect privacy, approximately 1 second was deleted from the audio track and not transcribed]

RC: Okay.

ML: So, I’m currently still a local title holder, which is Mr. Arizona Gay Rodeo Association. […] We had this contest last month at finals. And part of—part of this—part of the requirements to get this, we have to either participate in two events at the rodeo or work under an official. And so, this year—pardon me—this year, I did a few rodeos where I timed. I was a timer. So, we kept time for some of the events.

RC: Okay.

ML: So, yeah. So, we—we get involved as well. I have a knee problem so I can't participate in the rodeo, but I try and participate wherever I can.

RC: Yeah. So, kinda going back briefly to—what was your introduction to IGRA? You know, you said you went in Arizona. How did you find out about it? Or…what, um, what led you to it?

ML: Well, back then I was hanging out at the local bar that was really one of the bars that started—helped start the rodeo. And so, they had advertisements up. And then a bunch of friends were going out, so I said, “Okay, let’s go.” So, I went and that's pretty much it—just word of mouth. And then, ironically, the—when I went to my second rodeo in California, back then I guess they had community members that were just—did their grand entry. And they asked me, like, “Hey, do a grand entry!” and I said, “Okay.” So that was—I guess that would technically be my first introduction to actual—some of the… pageantry of rodeo. I don't know if you want to say pageantry, but some of the….

RC: Performance, maybe?

ML: Extra. Extras of rodeo—not the actual events, but the recognition of the associations and so forth. I got to be a part of that and I was like, “Oh, that’s really not me.” And again, my real introduction to really get involved was when I was part of the nonprofit in Arizona, and it being a beneficiary, and then going out and volunteering, and stuff like that for that. It was—that was my real big introduction. And making friends with everybody.

RC: And what was the name of that organization? The nonprofit?

ML: The nonprofit that I was affiliated with was the Joshua Tree Feeding Program. And it's a—it's basically—it’s a food bank that focuses on the HIV-AIDS community. People living with HIV and AIDS. So, fully community supported and everything.

RC: Um-hum. And did you do that as a volunteer or was that your job at the time?

ML: Yeah, it's a volunteer organization. So, there are no paid—there is no paid staff—so I did that purely on a volunteer [basis]. But I was on the board; I was their fundraising coordinator. So that's how I got involved with the other organizations that were raising money for us. And you got to see what those organizations did. So that's why I started volunteering—to get involved.

RC: So, were you working at the same time as that in something related? Or was that just the….

ML: Actually, no. I've been on disability for fifteen years. So, at the time, I wasn’t working and so I was just volunteering. So, I was always looking for stuff to do to keep busy and felt that it was also a good way to give back to the community and stuff like that, instead of just sitting there twiddling my thumbs all the time. So [laughs] so, I kind of have to be active, you know. It's—I couldn't think of any other organizations besides the nonprofit that I was part of. In fact, I got involved with a couple other non-profits, too, as well as Arizona Gay Rodeo Association and then, in turn, International Gay Rodeo Association. So, I'm very community focused myself.

RC: So, had you ever been to a rodeo, um, before? Before you went to the….

ML: A regular rodeo? Oh, yeah. In fact, back when I was a little child, my dad was a member of the Phoenix Jaycees, which are no longer. And they would hold a rodeo every year. So, yeah, as a kid, I would go to the rodeo. I was, you know—every once and a while and watch the rodeos but not really involved in them, until I turned my 20s—is when I really started looking, and seeing them, and saying, “Oh, there's a place for us.” […] So not really. As a child, I would go to different rodeos, but not in that capacity that I do with the rodeo associations—gay rodeo associations.

RC: And can I ask when you—it sounds like you came out at some point in between there?

ML: When I came out? I came—really, I came out—I always knew when I was a child. I knew. But I came out when I was 17. But still didn't know anything about rodeos until I was probably about 23, 24—didn’t know anything about the gay rodeos, I should say—until I was about 23, 24.

RC: Yeah. And so, having been to both kinds of rodeo, is there a different feel for you being at IGRA?

ML: Um, only because, from a spectator’s standpoint—and it's been so long since I've been to a regular rodeo—I mean, I've seen a couple here—but I think most of those, from a spectator’s standpoint, it's pretty much serious. It's—the thing that I noticed the most is: in regular rodeos the men do these events, the women do these events. And our rodeos—in the gay rodeo association—it doesn't matter what event we have. Men and women can participate in all of our events. And that's something I really like, because we are very inclusive. And just because we're the Gay Rodeo Association doesn't mean you have to be gay to be a participant. So, that's the other thing I like about our association—the gay rodeo association—is we are truly all-inclusive.

RC: Nice. And so, can you kind of talk a little bit about some of the different roles that you said you were? A scorekeeper for a while?

ML: Well, I wasn’t a score keeper, but I was—so, I volunteered—I used to always volunteer. So, I’d either, you know, watch the—a gate for—the contestants’ gate. To make sure that no one went back behind the chutes or anything like that unless they had a contestant badge or were, you know, associated with the rodeo. And from there, from watching the gates or gates to open and let the tractors in and out. So, security basically. I would do that.

And then, when I started running for royalty, I knew I had to volunteer under an official or be a participant in the rodeo. And I knew I couldn't participate in the rodeo, so I started looking at stuff, and I got into the arena crew the first year that I did it. And I had a—I learned a lot, had fun with that, and then over the last couple years, I did timing. Which you get to—that one I like a little more because you get to actually watch some of the events, but you have to also keep time, and make sure you're paying attention, and stuff like that. You also learn a little more about the events, I think, in timing versus arena crew.

The arena crew, you go, you learn the events that you're setting up for, so you know certain things. But in timing, you actually get to watch the events, and then see and observe and see how it actually is played out. Versus, you know, “Oh, now I have to make a line this way and that.” But now you get to see what happens when because of that. So, those are pretty much it. And then I—I will go around selling raffle tickets, I’ll go and I’ll help the gentleman back here that was setting all these clothes up. He's—he takes care of all the merchandise for International Gay Rodeo Association. So, every once and a while, I’ll help with that and so forth. So, wherever I'm needed, really, is where I volunteer.

RC: Do you have a favorite event to watch?

ML: My favorite event to watch…. You know, I have to say that I don't have a favorite because I don't get to. I mean, I don't sit there and say, “Oh, well, this event is going, I'm going to go watch the event.” I'll go and, depending on my schedule, I may sit and watch. Pole bending is a fun one to watch. In fact, I find myself watching pole bending the most. And then, I think one of the—two of the most fun ones to watch—would be goat dressing and wild drag, which are camp events. Which is something else that our gay rodeo association has that the regular rodeos don't. Because, you know, I mean, they have mutton bustin’ for the kids and stuff like that, which we don't have. But we still have something to—to have fun as well. And, ironically, wild drag is fun to watch. But even though it's a camp event, it is one of our most dangerous events because people do get injured in that one.

RC: Yeah. So, you're a fan of the camp events being included in the array?

ML: Yes. Yeah. Because it's like, it's not—that's something else, you know. It's like in the regular rodeos, I know they have the mutton busting for the kids, but it seems like that's the only real camp event that includes others. Because sometimes, at some of our rodeos, we will do community goat dressing, which will allow anybody to come out and do the goat dressing event. So that’s the community event that we include. But the camp events, it kind of breaks it up, because it's not so—it’s not everybody's so serious. You got to make those poles, you've got to do the flags, you gotta rope—you know, get that rope around it—the animal.

It's this is purely by fun, especially goat dressing. You got two runners. One has a pair of underwear on his hands and tries to get it—and they both try and get it on to that goat. I think that's—that’s fun to watch. Especially when, because we have—not only are the contestants involved as well as the goats, but we have one of the—one of the royalty members—one of the Miss Royalty members—they will go up there and they'll become the goat weight. So, they'll go sit on whatever apparatus that the rope is tied to, just to weigh it down so that the goat just can't take off and run off.

And sometimes they get involved, whether it's, you know, the goat runs around them, and the contestants are trying to catch the goat, and they run over the goat weight. Or, they decide at the end of it that they're not even gonna get that goat, so they're gonna go and they're gonna—instead of putting underwear on the goat—they go put underwear on the goat weight. Michael’s had that happen once. [laughs] Or twice. Or twice. [Voice of other IGRA member in background, to protect privacy, approximately 1 second was deleted from the audio track and not transcribed]

RC: You gotta be ready for anything, huh?

ML: So that's why that one's a fun one. Wild drag is fun because you've got—you've got somebody in drag trying to get on the back of a steer [laughs] and ride it across a line. So, those are the—those are two fun ones. The other camp event would be steer deco. And, really, that's just tying a ribbon to the tail—which is a is a difficult one—but the two fun ones would be goat dressing and wild drag.

RC: All right. So those are probably up there for your favorites?

ML: Yeah. I want to say, as far as camp, those are my favorites for camp events. And then I'd probably say Poles; Poles are the favorite for the regular events. Because it just—weaving through those six poles twice, you know, and seeing who can do it fastest without knocking poles over—it’s very, it’s very intense. And it’s good to watch the skills of both the horse and rider because that's the one where the horse and rider have to work as a team.

RC: Nice. And then, how did you decide that you wanted to become involved in royalty—or running for royalty?

ML: I've had, over the years, I’ve had friends that were royalty and so I was watching. I was observing them and everything like that. And then a couple years, they kept asking me, “So, when are you going to get involved? When are you going to run for royalty? When are you gonna?” I’m like, “I’ll think about it. I'll think about it.” And then probably about four years ago, when I was—it was four or five years ago—our former vice president of Arizona Gay Rodeo, Michael Brent, came up to me.

And he knew me for years—since the first one I went to back in my 20s—he knew me and he actually sat me down once and he says, “So, you're running for Mr. next year.” And I said, “Um, that wasn't a question.” And he goes, “No, it wasn’t.” So, I was kind of voluntold that I was going to run for royalty, and I did. And I used that year—that cycle—as a learning experience to see what was expected and everything else. And there were seven Mr. candidates, and I came out in—I came in fifth out of seven. I was right there in the middle.

And they said, “Are you going to do it again? Are you going to do it again?” I said, “Uhhhh….” Before the contest, I was like, “I’ll think about it. Let me go through this.” And then as soon as the contest was over, a couple people were like, “So are you going to do it again?” And I'm like, “Okay, I'll do it again.” And so, I did. And ironically, this year my goal was to come in the middle. There were four of us this year and I was like, “If I come in the middle, I'll have either second—I’ll be second or third, but I'll be on the team.” And so that's what I did. I accomplished my goal both years—both times.

RC: Nice! And can you talk a little bit about what the competition is like? The different things that you do?

ML: Oh, sure. Well, the competition—so if we if we start on competition day, […] Friday morning, we wake up—or we get up—and we go into this room with all the candidates, and then we get the rundown. And then we have to—we draw our numbers to see what order we get called in. And we sit there, and we wait. And when they call our number, that's when we have to be escorted into the room where there's a panel of judges. And we introduce ourselves. And then they—they allow us to sit, and we sit. And then they start asking questions.

And, basically, it’s questions to find out more about us—find out our knowledge about rodeo and the organization. And then, also to just see our personality and see how well we interact and deal with that—being asked questions about this stuff. And then, they score us on that; they also score us on our—on how we—our appearance and everything. And then, after that's done, we go, and we relax for like an hour. And then we have to get ready and go—go to the rodeo grounds—and then that's when the rest of the competition is.

Oh, I did skip out: there is an opportunity for—we have a, the option of—doing entertainment or horsemanship. And so, horsemanship—if you do a horsemanship—you submit a video, and then they will view that before they interview you. […] This year we didn't have any. Then, that night, we go and then we have two—we essentially have three categories, but it's in two segments. You've got Western Wear and Onstage Question—and Presentation, excuse me, Onstage Presentation. And you just come out looking your best. And then—then you pick the envelope and they ask you a question, and then you answer the question.

And then, the next segment—or the final category—would be Entertainment. Then, basically, you just go out there, and you entertain, and try and get them to laugh. Enjoy yourself. And then they score you on all of that. And then, we have to rate—we have to make 75 percent of the total score in order to qualify to be sashed. Then, of course, then they go from there. Black sash would be the highest score, red sash is the next score, and then white sash, which is Second Runner Up, would be the third highest score.

RC: What was your entertainment like?

ML: My entertainment? I had fun. I was told, “Make it fun. Go out there and just have a ball.” So, what I did [laughs] was, I picked a Clay Walker song called, “Long Live the Cowboy.” It's a fun song in itself. And I came out wearing an inflatable horse with the little mini legs, ‘cause, you know, it’s like the horse and rider. And, I came out wearing that, so it was like I was riding a horse out on the stage. And I performed “Long Live the Cowboy” and had everybody laughing. Looking at the scores, I did score the highest, so everyone enjoyed it. [laughs]

Ironically, that was the one category that I scored the highest, which is—and then I scored second in interview. And then, I guess my Western wear really wasn’t as popular as everybody else's. [laughs] I think part of it was it was the tailoring, because I'd been losing some weight, and so I didn't want to go out and get it tailored and then all of a sudden still have it either too loose or then all of a sudden I gained weight and then it being too tight. So, I was—it was a little too loose on me—and so I think that kind of marked against me. But, because I scored second in interview, and then first in entertainment, and then last in there, it put me—it kind of averaged out.

So that's how I became—I got First Runner Up, which I'm fine with, again. Because I made the team. That was my important thing. Because that's the other thing I like about our royalty is: it doesn't matter what color our sash is. Because you're on the team and you work together with the whole team. And that's something I really, really enjoyed about it. And that's why I said I said, “Okay.” [Man approaches the registration desk with a question; to protect privacy, approximately 5 seconds were deleted from the audio track and not transcribed] [Renae pauses tape]

RC: So, we just paused the tape, but you were saying that you like that it's part of a—being royalty is part of a team.

ML: Yeah, royalty is a team. And it's great. Even when I ran the last time and I didn't officially make the team, I was still part of the team because, you know, everybody that was royalty that year, I worked with that whole year and everything. And even though I didn't get sashed, I was still hanging out with them. And helping them out whenever I could, you know, and stuff like that. And to this day, they’re still—we’re still friends.

And, in fact, ironically, the vice president of IGRA right now, Michael Butts (aka Mipsy Mikels), is also—was also the Miss the year that I ran for—she was Miss AGRA, Arizona Gay Rodeo Association, the year I first ran. I was First—ironically, I was—First Runner Up for AGRA for that year. And so, I was on the royalty team—the local royalty team—with him and worked all year. He actually got the Miss IGRA title that year, along with another candidate—or another team member—on our AGRA team also got a black sash, which is the main title of the category. So that was the MsTer IGRA. And then, ironically, her wife got the Ms.—the M-S—red sash. So, the Messrs. were the only one that didn't sash on that team. But we were fine with—we had a blast.

And I learned a lot. […] And ironically, the Miss—the one that got the Miss IGRA, she is the current vice president, like I said, of IGRA. And so, she’s—he’s—I keep going back and forth because in face/out of face half the time—but he’s a big resource for me, helping me. Any former—that’s the thing—any former royalty that's still associated, still involved, which there are a lot of them, they are great resources, and we’re always here. And even when I'm done, I will always be there as a nice resource to help bring up the next people that are interested in royalty and stuff like that. And not even just royalty. The whole point of royalty is to go out there and promote the Gay Rodeo Associations, and then help each individual one with their rodeos and help fundraising. And spread the word so that, hopefully, we can be a viable organization for years to come.

RC: Yeah. So, then during the year, some of your duties as royalty are that fundraising aspect?

ML: A lot. I think the majority of our duties are fundraising, actually, whether it be for our home association or our other local associations. When we are—when we actually become the international title holders, we are required to raise money for the International Gay Rodeo Association first, and then…. But we still help out, you know, wherever we can. And it doesn't even have to be rodeo associations that we go and help out. We help out with, you know, the Imperial Court. Each state—a lot of states have Imperial Courts as well, and so we work hand in hand with them and do fundraising for them.

In Arizona, I help out with a few of the leather associations and other groups that they have fundraisers. And, you know, again, the non-profits: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, some of the other non-profits that do fundraising. It's like we're always there to help. And it's also another way to help promote the rodeo association with other groups. So that's our main purpose—is to raise money. Not only for the rodeo association, but to raise money for the community and spread the word about the rodeo.

RC: And some of those—the people that you would raise money for—do you get to pick a few of your own? Like, do you bring with you, um, groups that you want to make sure to…?

ML: Yeah. Yeah. For Arizona—our requirements to even run for the title for Arizona—we have to do—we have to raise money for not only the local rodeo association, we also need to raise money for a nonprofit. So, we—so, when we announce our candidacy, we also announce who our chosen nonprofit is. Which, mine was always Joshua Tree. So, then we raise money and everything like that. So then, when we do get the title, we still raise money. We still raise money for the local association, and then our nonprofit as well. So, just because, you know, we become a title—an international title holder—you raise money for the International Gay Rodeo Association, but we still also go out and we, you know, we like to support whoever asks us.

We like to try and be there as long as we can or whenever we can. But there are our own associations, or organizations, that we really enjoy raising money for. So, we're always looking to—if they have a fundraiser come up, nine times out of ten they'll say, “Hey, can you be a part of it?” And we're like, “Yeah.” If we're not at a rodeo, or another rodeo event/function then, majority of the time, we're like, “Yep.” We're right there. So, that's the other thing I like, is just being able to give back whenever we can. And also, it helps that I'm still on disability, so I have a little more free time than some.

RC: It sounds like it keeps you busy.

ML: Yeah. Because—and I find I have it easy—because I'm on disability. Because a lot of my team members, they have real jobs. They have full time jobs. You know, and they're constantly working, so it's great to, where I can, fill in wherever I need to, and stuff like that. So, it’s like, I have a feeling that—or I feel that this, this was kind of what was supposed to be for me because I had all this free time and I was able to do this. And whether I had the sash or not, I'd still be volunteering and doing it.

RC: Yeah. So, was that kind of the idea behind having a team? That then one of you fill in for the others?

ML: Yeah. And that's the thing. Because last year's team only really—they had somewhat of a full team, but their—they had some issues because a couple of them, they couldn't make it to all the rodeos and everything like that. So, having a full team, that means you can actually go in and split. And these people can go to these rodeos, these people can go to these rodeos. So, you know, it makes it easier. There have been years where there's only like three people on a team, or two people on a team.

And it makes it difficult for those two or three people that make it to every single rodeo in the season. But we like to try and have at least one royalty member at the rodeo. Sometimes it doesn't happen. There have been times in the past where a rodeo didn't have any royalty members and, unfortunately, scheduling still is an issue. So, sometimes they can't make it or last minute they were gonna—they were supposed to be there and then, all of a sudden, they got called into work or something else happened. It happens. But we try to make sure that we have at least one or two royalty members at each rodeo to support.

RC: Do you know if it's always been a team approach? Or is that—has that—is that something that has evolved?

ML: Um, I think in certain aspects. It's a team, but then […] the thing about having a team of people is, not only—they’re individuals as well. So, they might have some personality conflicts or whatever, but we try to look past that and work past that because we're like, “This is not about us. This is about, you know, raising money for the community and for the rodeo.” But there are times where, you know, personal—personalities—just… they overpower the person. And then, yeah, I guess there have been times where, you know, certain individuals might not want to be a team player. But we try not to put it out there so that the public sees it. It all happened behind—behind the curtain, so to speak.

But, for the most part, we try to be a team. And I think in the past it's always tried to be that. You know, that's the whole point of having a royalty team. It’s just: go out there and just be the best you can. It's not about—it's not about, “Hey, I'm Mr. and you're only the First Runner Up.” It's not about that. Because we are a team and that's something we talked about before the competition. And then it's something we restate after the competition. It's like it doesn't matter what color that sash is, it's a matter of what you do with it and how you move forward. And what you do with it, again.

RC: So, are there any things in the upcoming rodeo season that you're particularly looking forward to doing as a…?

ML: I'm going—I plan on going to a few rodeos that I haven't been to in the past. And we're really just going out there and experiencing a few new things. I get—one of the also benefits of becoming a royalty team member on the International circuit—I get to go to some of the local associations and actually judge some of their competitions. Even though we’re gay, we judge all the time. [laughs] [Renae pauses tape]

RC: We took a brief pause there, and then we're going to return to taping now.

ML: K.

RC: We are sitting at the booth. What is this—the registration booth?

ML: It's the registration booth.

RC: So, people are coming and going. Um, so let’s see, where were we? Oh—I think we are pausing again. [Renae pauses tape] So, I think you were talking about recruitment. 

ML: Yeah. So, part of—one of the other things about being part of royalty is, you go out and you not only try and recruit your—the people that take over next year for your, you know, your royalty, or to run again and so forth, but you also try and recruit by going out and letting people know about the gay rodeo association. You try and get more people interested. And, in turn, they’ll possibly be interested not in—not just into royalty, but as—interested in being competitors. […] Even if you don't have experience with horses, we have events that don't have horses, or even animals, involved. So even if you're scared of animals, we—there's team roping on foot. There is an animal involved but you have—the only contact you have—is trying to get a rope around its neck and then you let go of the rope. So, you don't even interact with the animal beyond that.

And then […] there's the horse-riding events, which are the barrels, flags, and pole bending, as well as the mounted roping events. So, there's something for everyone, I think. Again, we have the camp events; we have the goat dressing. So, all you're doing is going to put underwear on a goat. You know, it's great. No matter what your skill level is, we have something for you. And then that's the other thing I like about the rodeo—this gay rodeo association—is that, even if you’ve never done any of it before, the other contestants that have been around, they're willing to come in and help you and get you involved.

One of my team members from the last time I ran for royalty—that was on the royalty, that made it to the international royalty—one of them, the one that got the MsTer category, which is the female who dresses up like a male and entertains as a male, she decided to get into—involved in rodeo. So, she did chute dogging that year. And other contestants that have been around, they went in and they showed her how to do it. And that first year, she buckled. She buckled. And then, this year, she not only did chute dogging, she got into—she got into another event. Or actually, let’s see, so she did—oh, I think she did calf roping on foot. Yeah, so she did calf roping on foot. And that, as well as, I think, one of the camp events. And so, she's buckled. This is only her real—really her third year—second or third year—really get involved in competing in rodeo. And she's already buckled like two or three times.

RC: Wow.

ML: Yeah. That's something else, it doesn't take skills. But just getting anybody involved, that's the whole point of this is to go out and just—because if we don't, then it gets stagnant and people—people age out. Then what are we going to do? So, without the royalty team going out and promoting, there's—that’s, you know, letting people know about the gay rodeo. Because I still—gay rodeo has been around for… thirty-five years… [Mahlon enters into a side conversation with an IGRA member; to protect privacy, approximately 30 seconds were deleted from the audio track and not transcribed] …so, yeah, about 40 years. And even to this day, I still have people like, “There's a gay rodeo?” [laughs]

RC: Uh-huh.

ML: And we’re like, “Yeah! And it's fun. Come out.” [Someone approaches the registration desk with a question; to protect privacy, approximately 3 seconds were deleted from the audio track and not transcribed] [Renae pauses tape]

RC: So, what do you think about the future of IGRA… [someone reads a list of names in the background; to protect privacy, approximately 3 seconds were deleted from the audio track and not transcribed] Do you think there’s a strong future in recruitment?

ML: Um, Yeah. We’re—we do get new people involved all the time. In fact, in Arizona, we have a member who just joined the gay rodeo this year. [Mahlon enters into a side conversation with an IGRA member; to protect privacy, approximately 10 seconds were deleted from the audio track and not transcribed] And he got Rookie of the Year. So, he came in strong and showed. And, as Mike was saying, that we—we actually had two in Arizona that first-time joined. But the one who got Rookie of the Year, he came in strong.

We do get new contestants and new people involved with rodeo. In fact, one of the candidates in Arizona that is running for the Ms. (M-S) title in Arizona, she's—this is—she’s new to rodeo and everything else. And so, she's here this weekend as part of the Arizona delegates—the delegation—so she can learn as much as she can about rodeo. And she's interested and she's asking questions. And it's great because it shows that people are still interested. And so, that's—I think as long as we can keep the interest there, and keep the lines of communication open to the younger generations—to the people that, you know, find out about rodeo and they're interested—just show them that we're welcoming and open.

And just saying, “Hey, what do you want to do? What do you want to learn? What you want to know?” Like you, you know, you're trying to find out—you’re asking us questions. Yep, I'll answer questions. That's what we're here for. But I think I—it’s one of those grey areas because, you know, rodeo is fun and everything else but, just like some of the bar scenes, people are getting stuck on their computers and their phones and it's harder to get them to look up and see, “Hey, there's an event going on here.” “Oh, yeah. Okay.” [laughs] You know?

RC: Uh-huh.

ML: And it's just—it’s a matter of, not only are we fighting with all the other events that are out there, but now we have to fight and try and get the people—get the younger generation is, I feel like they're closing in and becoming more—not introverted, but they're more—because they're still talking to their friends, but it's not face to face, it's very computer oriented or phone oriented. And it's like, I know of a couple of people who’ll be in the same room and they'll just be texting each other or, you know, it's like, “Dude, you're right there. Go talk to them or whatever.” […] And I get it, because some of these people—we’re gay so we can be catty—and some of these people, they're actually texting each other because they're talking about somebody that happens to be over there. But still. [laughs]

RC: Huh. [laughs]

ML: But, you know, I think, again, rodeo has—gay rodeo has—been around for officially 35 years but really 40. I think in some aspects, it'll still be here. It may not be as big as it once was. You know, it is it has dwindled but it's—I think it’s just like everything. It’ll ebb and flow. It might not ever be as big as it was in its heyday, but I think, in some form or fashion, we'll still be able to keep it alive. Especially as long as we can keep the interest, and get people involved, and show them it’s fun—come out.

RC: Do you think the demographics are changing at all? Either in terms of like, age, or maybe racial diversity, or ethnic diversity, or anything like that? Do you see that happening?

ML: Age? That's part of the—the age is part of the issue. Because the majority of our competitors have been there for 20 to 30 years—since the beginning. We have some members that are—have been here since the beginning. And, sad thing is, some of them are still competing but they're starting to age out. They’re getting to that—you know, being injured so many times and bucked off a horse, or a bull, or steer, or something like that so many times. They're like, “I can't do this anymore.” So, it's a matter of trying to get the younger generation. Fortunately, we are getting some younger people coming in, like the rookie of the year that I was talking about earlier, he’s like early 20s. […] And so, we are getting some younger ones, but not enough. We would love to be able to get more. The—our women demographics, the female demographics, I think is a large—there are some rodeos I think I see more women than men.

RC: Oh.

ML: Some, not all. Or a pretty even amount. And the fact that our events, whether you're male or female, you can participate in every single event. So even if—I mean, one of my friends—one of the people I consider a friend, you know, a rodeo friend, she—I met her about four or five years ago—I met her, she was riding steers. And then she was gonna go ride a bull. That was the year I met her, was her first time. She was gonna ride a bull. Unfortunately, that Saturday she got injured so she wasn't riding much after that first event. […]

So, she rides bulls and steers. I know some girls that get out there and they cover and the guys don’t. You know, and then there are some—so, sometimes there have been some events where, again, the women buckle and ribbon, and there's been a couple of times where the men don’t. And it’s the ones you would expect the men to get it versus the women. It's like sometimes the women outshine the men, and it's great. And it’s great because our association—our rodeo association—allows that. And the men don’t get jealous, you know. They’re like, “Yay!” They may get upset because they didn't cover, or ribbon, or buckle, but they're just as supportive of them and everything else.

RC: That’s great.

ML: That's the thing I love about this association.

RC: Uh-huh. Nice. Well, I think it's getting a little loud in here.

ML: Yeah, I think it is.

RC: So, I'm going to ask you one last question, if that’s okay?

ML: Okay. Sure.

RC: And this is one we're just asking to everyone. And this is: do you consider yourself a cow-person—a cowboy or a cowgirl?

ML: No. I consider myself somebody that wished they were—wished they were raised with horses and stuff like that. Because I am very envious of quite a few of them. Because, I do, I love horses; I love animals. And again, I have friends that do have that stuff. And yeah, I think—I don't know if I would be any different had I been raised with it or not. But, no, I don't consider myself a cowpoke, so to speak.

RC: Okay.

ML: But I'm glad to have friends that are.

RC: Well, very nice. Thank you very much for…

ML: You’re very welcome.