Interview with Kevin Hillman
Austin, Texas on November 20, 2016 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield
Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield and I'm here with Kevin Hillman it's November 20th 2016 and we're at the International Gay Rodeo Association Annual Convention. So can you tell me about where you grew up?
Kevin Hillman: I grew up on a farm in a little town called Driggs, Idaho. My mother’s family were Hereford breeders, my father’s family were potato farmers so when they merged we ended up with a small registered breed of Herefords, and of course we had milk cows and horses and chickens and pigs and then our cash crop was potatoes. Me and my brothers as we got older had a small herd of sheep that we raised. That's where I grew up with seven siblings and my mom and my dad on this about 800 acre farm.
RS: And what year were you born?
KH: I was born in 1957, so a few years ago.
RS: And what were sort of…what was your sort of average work life like on the ranch growing up?
KH: Well, we had a dairy herd so milking cows. About the age of eight I started learning to milk cows. Even before that I was on the tractor driving through the hay fields while we harvest the hay crops and things like that. Doing other odd jobs when I was younger, and then as we got older we moved into moving sprinkler pipes which were hand lines, so we carried these aluminum pipe across the field and that's how we made our summer money to buy our clothes and do things like that for school year. And then we just did all the other little farm things you did, driving tractors, sorting potatoes, and any time we had an opportunity to go milk the cows and not work in the potato fields I volunteered to go do it. I hated working in the potato fields. I swore I would never be a potato farmer.
RS: And with the registered herd did you do a lot of travel?
KH: We traveled a little bit with them but mainly our focus was breeding stock so we raised bulls and we sold most of our bulls on the farm. And then we did have a couple of bull sales we went to each year and sold our bulls through that called the Six Point Hereford Association, which I'm surprised I remember. And my father was the secretary of that, so we had to make all the folders and mailers and everything twice a year to send out and that was a big family thing. And then I got involved in FFA and 4H and that's where a lot of my involvement with other livestock and animals was. I grew up riding horses and going to rodeos with my family. My grandfather was a horseman from way back, I know my grandma once said when my grandfather went to a horse sale was how many they going to bring home not are they going to bring any home. So, it was always exciting to see grandpa pull up with his herd of horses. His brother were known to be quite good with training horses, which was never really my father’s interest. So it's kind of interesting there.
RS: And what was school like?
KH: You know I was just your typical high school kid. I was friends with most of the kids in my school. We had a small class of fifty at the most. Most of us started our elementary school together and went all the way through high school together. And if someone weren't a friend they were my cousin, so, I was related to a lot of the people. My mother's family are some of the first white settlers in the valley and my father’s family had been there for...since the 1870s, so I was related to quite a few people. I participated in track. There was a rodeo team. I played the saxophone very poorly. But I loved doing it. I participated in dance classes. Gymnastics. And of course FFA which is Future Farmers of America, which I was heavily involved in and enjoyed that greatly. I always say I had some good friends and then I was friends with pretty much anybody in the school. I got along with a lot of the people. And high school for me wasn't a bad thing, I enjoyed it and I enjoy getting back together at my class reunions with those people. It's a lot of fun.
RS: Were you ever openly gay in high school?
KH: Well let's put it this way, I didn't even know what a gay person was when I was in high school. I think Milton Berle on TV dressing as a woman was the closest thing, or Flip Wilson, that I even knew what drag was. Identifying as a gay man, I had no idea. I wasn't...I just assumed that, you know, you grew up and got married.
KH: I was raised in a Mormon family. I call it a very liberal Mormon family because my family was very inclusive of anyone. My mother was raised Methodist most of her life. So I had a very diverse family. My father's family moved away from Utah, to get away from the Mormons because he felt his family had been treated poorly. And since then some of my relatives have come into the Mormon faith, but...so I grew up with this thing that we accepted everyone for who they are and we looked for the best in people.
KH: I had a mother that was…I didn't mean to get emotional there. I think a great example to me and my siblings, and my dad, of what it meant to be inclusive, to treat people fairly, and to...reach out to those who may need an extra little bit of a leg up. And she always ruled with an iron fist, so...she was the head of the household in a lot of ways! So I have a great family, I have four younger brothers and two younger sisters...and, so, it's pretty good. Pretty good group of people.
RS: So what did you do after high school?
KH: I thought about going to college, and I did for a while and found out that it wasn't really for me. I had opportunities to do other things and I chose not to do them. And I also ran for a major office with the FFA to be a state officer which I profoundly failed at because I was putting on the convention for the FFA that year and missed an interview and so they assumed I wasn't interested which was probably a heartbreak to me. I participated in high school in public speaking and was considered very good at and debate, parliamentary procedure.
KH: So I like I said, I dropped out of college, my family really couldn't afford to help me. So I went to work full time and worked in banking and things like that. And when I was at college, I went to a Mormon owned college, my roommates kind of influenced me and I decided to go on a Mormon mission. So, I spent a two year mission at the Oakland, California mission first part of my mission was in downtown San Francisco as my first experience of being dumped into what made me start to think, “Oh, gay…maybe I identify with something here.” I was still at that point didn't really identify as a gay man, but I all of a sudden started to understand why things felt differently to me. And why my interests were different and probably why my high school friends were female...I looked at them as friends as much as anything as I did with my male friends no more than that. But there was never any “love interest” or anything, it was just...it just was an eye opening experience for me.
KH: And I think to be honest with you, my mission opened me up to the possibilities of being able to be whoever I wanted to be. When I was on my mission I met doctors, I met street people, I met drag queens and I met a lot of different people who you don't meet in a little town in Idaho and so when I started dealing with being gay, and who I was, I wasn't feeling pigeon holed into being a drag queen or a hairdresser or something like that. I realized I could be whoever I wanted and I think that was a wonderful experience for me.
RS: Do you think you would have had that if you hadn't actually done your mission?
KH: If I hadn't gone on a mission I probably would have done what a lot of Mormon men do in small Mormon communities and I probably would have made the mistake of getting married. Even after my mission, I got engaged. We were close to having a wedding when I experienced some things that made me realize I needed to deal with my sexuality. The young lady who I was engaged to was a wonderful, wonderful person. Most understanding person you could ever meet, and I haven't really met her since, or I should say haven't seen her only maybe once since we broke off the engagement. But I wish all the happiness and everything in the world to her. And like I said she was a great lady. She had to put up with me through a very rough time of my life. And so...I think my life would have went in a much different direction if I hadn't went on a mission, so.
RS: How old were you when you broke off your engagement?
KH: Oh let’s see...I was probably 23. So, somewhere in that neighborhood. I'm trying to think how old I was when I got home from my mission but it was probably about 23 when that broke off so…it was probably the best thing I ever did for both of us.
RS: And after your engagement ended where were you living at the time?
KH: At that time I was actually living with my family. We had...my folks had moved into my...grandparents house...and I was kind of living in their house. I was working in a bank and helping out on the farm. But, because of that, and what had happened earlier before the engagement was broke off I told myself that it was time for me to find out who I was. I had been working in banking, I was offered a job to work for a bank in California that job fell through as I was headed to California. I was in northern Utah. A good high school mate was working in a bank and she told me that they were looking for a head teller and asked me if I wanted to come and interview for the position. So I took a job in Logan, Utah as a teller at a bank. And so that's where I ended up for a while.
KH: While I was working for them, I chose to basically force the Mormon church to excommunicate me. Because of the belief system in the church they believe if you are a Malkestick Priesthood holder, one of the highest levels you can be as a lay person, had more responsibilities and that you had to act differently and if you weren't a member of the church you didn't have those responsibilities and you didn't have to live up to those things. So I felt for me at that point in my life was time to move away from all of that. Move that responsibility away from me so I didn't have that guilt part and basically went to the church and told them that I kind of liked boys...I don't know if you want me to tell you what I actually said!
KH: What’s that?
RS: Of course I want to know.
KH: [Laughter.] Well the Mormon bishop in the ward that I was working in asked me why I couldn't take a leadership role and I says, “Well, it's ‘cause I like to suck pee pees.” And at that point he said, “Maybe we should talk about this in private.” And so that’s...that was my way of saying to them that I think I need to leave the church at this time and explore who I am and this part of my life and find out if that's really who I am. And it was a good thing for me, and it made me.
KH: I stayed in Logan for a while. I worked for that bank for a little while longer. When I was ex-communicated I was discriminated against. I was told that of course this would always be a court of love and there would be nothing said outside of that meeting. The first day I was back at work, everybody there knew I had been ex-communicated because somebody had gone home from that court of love and told their wife who told their wife of my co-workers. And I was actually put on probation for no reason at work and I said to them, “Why is this happening? You need to give me an idea of why I'm being put on probation, what I can do to improve my work schedule or my work load.” I says, “If this is just because of the fact that you've now found out that I'm gay, it's wrong.”
KH: Of course we had no rights at that time, they could fire me for just being gay. The board of directors had met that night at the bank and basically said we’re not going to go down that road. One of my good friends who worked at the bank’s father was on that board and said we need you to only judge him on the merits of his job. But because of that I actually told them I would be looking for a new job and I ended up working in the medical field then after that for a hospital chain.
RS: In Logan?
KH: In Logan Utah, whose corporate offices were based out of Salt Lake City. So…
RS: Did you have a better experience with them?
KH: I had a wonderful experience with them but it was still...I was pretty much closeted. I hadn't really come out. Some people knew. I still talked about going partying and always used pronouns instead of his/her, she/him. If I went to party I drove to Salt Lake City, Utah weekly to go down to the gay bars. Right after I was excommunicated I went to my first gay bar.
KH: And the second gay bar I went to the bartender and I were chatting and we got talking about family and being from Idaho. “You look so much like my uncle that my mom had raised her two youngest brothers with us.” I asked him if he knew my uncle ‘cause they would be about the same age. He said, “No, but I have family by that name in Driggs, Idaho.” Well if he has family by that name they’re related to me! And so I said to him, asking what his was, and he told me so I asked him if he knew who would be his grandmother and he said “Yeah that's my grandma.’ And I told him who my grandfather was without saying that and he says “Yeah that's my great uncle.” And I said we're second cousins. So the first alcoholic beverage I ever drank in a gay bar was served to me by my second cousin. And he and I are very close in some ways and he still lives there in Salt Lake City and so we keep in contact. So, it was kind of a...it was really good to meet somebody who was family, and not only in the sense of my gay family but actually blood, and his friendship has meant a lot to me over the years.
RS: Was there a very big gay community in Salt Lake?
KH: Salt Lake has a very vibrant gay community. It's quite a large community and probably one of the most politically powerful groups in the city of Salt Lake. I always believe that no mayor will be elected without the support of the gay community. Right now they have a lesbian mayor and I helped serve on the Pride committee from ‘91 through ‘94 as a co-chair or something, and then I was involved with other things. I was asked to serve on what is now called Equality Utah's Board, when they first formed which was a political organization there in the valley. But with my involvement with gay rodeo and other commitments I had with the Ryan White Fund and county things I realized I didn't have the time to put into that...that it required and it needed...so I chose not to be involved with that.
KH: I got involved when I got in Salt Lake with the Royal Court of the Golden Spike Empire which is a drag-based social organization and does a lot of fundraising and in Utah a lot of the organizations can trace their roots back to the Royal Court system. Rodeo, as well as many of the other organizations that are in Salt Lake, had maybe some seed there. Even our community center has some seeds that came out of that. Our Pride Day does and things of that nature.
RS: So how did your family respond when you when you came out and were excommunicated? Did your family take that hard?
KH: The excommunication thing was difficult for some. I actually kept that pretty close to the vest. I probably have relatives who really don't know that I've been excommunicated yet. But it's never something I really hide. I didn't even try to come out to my family until…oh, I was excommunicated in ‘82, so ’91, is when I actually started coming out to my family and friends and...and kind of said, “I'm over it. I'm not going to be in the closet anymore.” My sister and I had an experience in Logan where some guy was sexually harassing her on the phone. He first called her thinking it was my wife and was going to tell my wife that I was gay. And it was actually my sister, and she was quite flustered with it, but she handled the guy really well. She told him that she didn't have time to talk to him and if he called back in a couple of hours she could talk to him then. He never called back after that. I did confront him about it but he was someone that I really didn't want to have anything to do with anyway, and so, that was kind of the first family member who actually knew and who I’d actually confirmed it to that I was gay, so...other than my other gay family members. And...pretty much lived my life kind of in the shadows you might say.
KH: I got involved with some gay organizations on the...in the shadows, I guess is another way to say it. I moved to Salt Lake City and while I was there I had an opportunity to go work for a medical software company who had bought the software away from the corporation that I was working with and it gave me an opportunity to travel around the country and then in that process I got to see a lot of people, see a lot of country, learned a lot of places I don't want to ever live, and places I liked. And I was able to deal with my sexuality by going out and seeing how different communities handled things and how things were different. The one thing I will say about Salt Lake City is that our female and male community have always worked very closely together and I didn't see that in some other cities. There was a definite divide. I went to a bar once and was told that I was on the women's side of the bar and that I needed to move to the men’s side, which kind of shocked me, because the gay bars in Utah...everybody was on the dance floor with each other and everybody was welcome to be there.
KH: I quit that job after about a couple of years. I got tired of traveling, which I didn't think I ever would, I went to work for the US Postal Service. I tell people I'm a local street walker but I have to deliver mail to get a paycheck. So...and I've done that now for almost twenty-eight years, so I enjoy my job. It keeps me in good shape and when I moved back to Salt Lake and started with the post office is when I found gay rodeo again and started getting involved with that.
RS: Now because that was a state, or a federal job, did you have to remain closeted at work?
KH: That was the one thing about the post office. They already had a non-discrimination policy in place explicitly stating sexual orientation. Now gender identity is, I think, also in place now but it wasn't when I first started. So it gave me the freedom to be who I was and to be out. And so because of that involvement with the Pride celebration, my HIV status, and my co-chairs at Pride, Brenda who wasn't able to be my co-chair and I started what we call the DIG Awards, which stands for the Diversity is Great Awards, to do a fundraiser for the community center and recognize people in our community had done things to improve the lives of gays and lesbians. Whether the person was an ally or whether they were a gay or lesbian person. I also got involved with the National Labor Union movement and was a member of their board for a short time. They were called Pride at Work and they were part of the FLCIL. So I had a very broad, very fast indoctrination in the early 90s of being a gay man.
KH: And because of that I got involved with the Community Council of Utah which is an organization of gay and lesbian groups and clubs and businesses in Salt Lake, because they put on our Pride Day. And I was so enthusiastic about it that I went in and, I'm a go getter and want get involved, volunteered really not knowing what I was getting into to be chair of Gay Pride for 1991. And, my co-chair was Brenda Voisard but Brenda had to resign and so I ended up with Deb Rosenberg for my co-chair. And so I had two wonderful gals that I got to work with for a while. We took Pride and moved it to a different location than they had been having it. We brought in the first outside entertainer, which we caught hell for doing, but our Pride celebration started to grow from there. We probably had about 3,000 to 4,000 people show up. And I did my first television interview and before I did that interview I called my mom and talked to her on the phone and told her I was going to be doing it. And I called a couple of siblings and they're like, “Okay, well, basically do what you have to do.” My mother never said I love you, my siblings did...that I spoke with...the ones that I felt I needed to talk to. And so I did this television and in the interview I invited everyone down and because of that the local skinhead organization took that as an invitation and showed up at our Pride day.
KH: Pride day was very eventful for me in more than one way. I had been asked by my co-chair and her partner if I would father a child with them. So I went and was tested for HIV and other things and I got so busy that I forgot to get my test results. So Pride day was coming up that Sunday. I got a call asking if I'd like to come get my results, I had done this before, I went in on a Wednesday and they took me, I call it “on the trail from Nauvoo to Salt Lake back through the building to a back room,” and before we got back there I knew the results were going to be that I was HIV positive. I had worked in medical enough I knew enough about HIV to know it wasn't a death sentence at that moment but that I probably, at that time, only had ten years to live. I knew that I had zero converted back in November of 1990 and so HIV was something I was going to have to live with and try to figure out how to survive. And I literally at that point in my life looked at my life as being a ten year experience because people were not living much longer than that.
KH: And so that was kind of funny because the gal that told me, I told her, “Well okay, well I'll deal with that later I've got to put on a party for 5,000 people on Sunday. I'm doing Pride day!” And she thought I was in denial. I went to my personal doctor, he said he would take me on as client, as a patient still, and so Pride day came around and I literally had no time to think about the HIV. I had to get one of my close friends and say listen if I fall apart today I need you to step in. And about the time I was ready to fall apart, because of the song the entertainer was singing, the Skinheads showed up! So I no longer had time to feel sorry for myself. So, I was able to move into that and move forward with that and had a hoot.
KH: I had a wonderful Pride celebration and I've really never ever mourned my HIV. I have been able to wear it with a pride on my shoulder and that I decided when I came out as gay from...I was also coming out as HIV ‘cause I wasn't going to come out of the closet twice. So I got involved with the speakers bureau at the Utah's AIDS foundation to go talk to people about living with HIV, and also became an advocate in other ways for it, and had the wonderful opportunity for ten years of speaking to high school students and middle school students, different groups, community organizations, and church groups about living with HIV, the dangers of HIV and other STDS and sharing my experience and talking about what people were living with then. Half...about five years after that is when they came out with new protease inhibitors which has caused us to be able to live a full and successful life. And I have never ever had any real problems because of my HIV. Now my other health issues, like diabetes, is a different issue! But HIV never has.
KH: And so because of that involvement with the Pride celebration, my HIV status, and my co-chairs at Pride, Brenda who wasn't able to be my co-chair and I started what we call the DIG Awards, which stands for the Diversity is Great Awards, to do a fundraiser for the community center and recognize people in our community had done things to improve the lives of gays and lesbians. Whether the person was an ally or whether they were a gay or lesbian person. I also got involved with the National Labor Union movement and was a member of their board for a short time. They were called Pride at Work and they were part of the FLCIL. So I had a very broad, very fast indoctrination in the early 90s of being a gay man.
KH: And I enjoyed everything, made friends all over the country. And because of that my involvement in gay rodeo gave me an opportunity to have family in rodeo and be able to do the farm stuff you might say and some of the stuff I liked to do….being around livestock and animals and things like that. So it kind of came full circle from leaving the farm, to the 90s, to being involved with gay rodeo and the other things I was doing. My fingers were in a lot of places during the early 90s and then I started focusing more on gay rodeo in the early end of that time.
RS: How did you hear about gay rodeo?
KH: I actually attended the gay rodeos in Reno, Nevada when they had them there which were the first rodeos they had. I remember our grand marshal was, um, oh shoot. Bette Middler was it one year but when I was there it was Joan Rivers. So, I had a great time. So I knew there was something out there.
KH: When I moved to Utah, one night at the bar with the royal court system, somebody was saying that the Golden Spike Gay Rodeo Association was doing something. I went and introduced myself to them. That was before I had quit working for the medical software company. When I quit working for them I looked that group up again and they’d changed their name to the Utah Gay Rodeo Association. And they were seated that year at the IGRA convention and I became involved with them and in ‘91 I ran to be their “Mister UGRA.”
KH: And so I was Mr. UGRA 1992 as a representative and fundraising director for the Utah Gay Rodeo Association. And I actually ran for Mr. IGRA, and made enough mistakes in my presentations at the IGRA royalty level, but I still ended up fourth out of ten men who were running for that title and made some life time friends from that and so that was how I got started with gay rodeo. Grabbed my horses from my family, loaded them in a horse trailer, and hauled them to the Phoenix Rodeo with my royalty team and my friends and we went down and competed at the Phoenix Rodeo and had a great time.
KH: And that’s how basically I got heavily involved with gay rodeo and became totally enthralled with being a part of it.
RS: Which rodeo events did you participate in?
KH: Only thing I haven’t done at the gay rodeo level is bareback bronc and bull riding. I rode enough broncs in my life growing up that I really didn’t want to get on a crazy horse, and bull riding doesn’t scare me, I just feel I didn’t had the skill set to do it so I didn’t do it. I tried steer riding. I found out I probably didn’t have the skill set to do that either. So I haven’t done that. But the other events I’ve competed in all of them. Oh, I haven’t completed at a gay rodeo in team roping. But I have done some team roping with my little brothers and they think I’m awful. My family is involved in rodeo heavily now. I have two siblings that raise livestock for rodeos. My one brother produces a small family rodeo on the weekends in the summertime and so I’m able to go to that so it’s a lot of fun to see them involved with that. And my other siblings have been involved in rodeo quite a bit.
RS: Do they ever come to gay rodeos?
KH: They never have, so it will be interesting if I can get them to come, when we have another one in Utah. My sister and her husband came and did dutch oven cooking for us for one of our fundraisers one time at one of the bars. Um, but my family has always been accepting of who I am. In 1994 my mother passed away. In ‘95 I met my life partner. We’ve been together almost 22 years. I got married in September of 2013. My family have always accepted him for who he is, whether they like our lifestyle or not, that’s not as important to them as whether or not they treat us with respect. My nieces and nephews are great. I had to laugh when my, once, little niece and nephews were younger they came to me and said, “Ryan’s your servant, isn’t he?” And I had to grin at that.
KH: And then a few years later they come over and said, “Oh, Ryan is your boyfriend.” And they thought that was pretty cool they had figured that out. So my nieces and nephews are very supportive of me in the sense of my relationship and who I am, regardless of their religious affiliation. Some are Mormon, some aren’t, and so they’ve all been very supportive of me. I’m sure some of them don’t totally understand or agree with it but they have never really said it to my face. We disagree on politics and religion more than we do on my lifestyle.
RS: How did you meet your partner?
KH: We met in a bar. And if I tell the story he’ll call me a liar! [Laughter] But the story’s true! We, ah, I actually went there to meet someone else. And we sit down and start talking and he asked me for my phone number. Well, I didn’t have any pen and paper but because I was doing gay rodeo my phone number was the contact number for gay rodeo. Because I was doing the Diversity is Great Awards my phone number was the contact for that and we were putting them on in a month, and because of my involvement with Pride my phone number was the contact number for that as well. And, so, I said, “Well, here let’s grab one of the gay newspapers that we had and my phone number is here, here, here, and here.” Of course at that point his friends and he said, “Well, he’s really kind of arrogant. I don’t think you want to spend any time with him.” So my partner basically said I threw the water on it when my friend came over and said, “Am I interrupting anything?” and I said, “No.”
KH: So anyways the story is, is I found out where he worked, I went to his work, he didn’t remember who I was from two or three nights before. He’ll tell you it’s because I didn’t look the same. My husband is not someone who pays that much attention to someone in the sense of how they look or what they are, he looks for certain things. So he asked me to write my name and phone number down after I had asked him out, and I think we were going to go to a bull riding only competition, and that was when I wrote my name and phone number down it still I don’t think clued him into that he had met me at the bar a couple of nights before! So that’s how we met and that’s when we started dating and that was on January 14 of 1995. And that was our first date and after that our friends were like, “You two? That’s not something we would put together.” And we did have a rough go to begin with, like a lot of gay couples. But we’ve been together now twenty-two years almost and I don’t see it going anywhere real soon. He puts up with my idiosyncrasies and that’s all that’s important. [Laughter.]
RS: Where did he grow up?
KH: What’s that?
RS: Where did he grow up?
KH: He grew up, actually, in Santa Maria, California mainly but his family is from Preston, Idaho and Smithfield, Utah. So when he went on his mission they had moved back to Utah and he’d actually gone to college in Utah, so his ties were quite heavily to Utah but his schooling and his youth was in Santa Maria, California. And that’s actually where we got married, we went back there to visit his schoolmates and so while we were there I woke up one morning asking what he wanted to do and he didn’t say anything so I said, “Well do you want to get married?” So we went and got married that day. [Laughter.] And I’m usually the cool and calm and collected one. He was the cool, calm and collected one. I was pitted out! The poor lady who sold us the marriage license twice came out and asked me if I was going to be okay. And, I made it through the marriage ceremony. I told the minister we wanted it short, sweet, and over with and that’s what it was. And that was in September of 2013 and so we’ve just celebrated three years of actual marriage.
RS: And was he ever involved with the gay rodeo, too?
KH: I made him. I’ve actually had him in the area. He’s done goat dressing. He’s not an athlete. [Laughter.] He’s an academic. He’s an eye doctor. And so, that part of my life he supports and is happy for me. He’s involved with the rodeo association now as a member and is supportive of me and of the organization but when it comes to the rodeo part and the competitive part he’ll sit in the stands and call himself a rodeo widow. He’s not going to get in the arena again, he said, so, but I got him to serve on the board of directors for a while and I got him involved with our convention. And so he’s very supportive of me, but, this is...this is my thing and so it just makes me grin.
RS: And you were re-seated as Utahs...
KH: The Utah Gay Rodeo Association closed its doors. They were seated in ‘89 and closed their doors in 2006 and a little over a year ago some kids in Utah decided they wanted to start it back up again, and I got an invitation to come and get involved and so as of the convention here in Austin, Texas in 2016 we have now been re-seated as the Utah Gay Rodeo Association and can move forward on putting on rodeos and convention and other things that IGRA sponsors.
RS: So why did it close?
KH: I wasn’t involved the last three years so I can’t really say what the reasoning was behind...for them dispersing. And they didn’t really invite me in to be part of that when they were dispersing. And, which is fine with me, I needed a break. I’d been so active in the community for so many years that me and my husband were on a hiatus you might say. It lasted a lot longer than I planned on it lasting, but, it was something I think I needed.
KH: When I started that hiatus a good friend of mine who had gotten involved...who was involved in gay rodeo and also with other things, I tell you, put me in a very bad spot. In Salt Lake City we have the Dr. Kristen Ries Community Service Award which is probably...Dr. Ries was the first doctor in Utah to start serving HIV positive patients and she had gone on, her and her partner, Maggie, would be two of the top HIV care patient specialists in the world. Both of them have now retired. I had the opportunity for her to be my doctor for some time.
KH: Every year at our Pride celebration the community hands out the Dr. Kristen Community Service Award. So, I’m going to toot my horn a little bit, and I was actually honored with getting that award. Again, I didn’t expect to get emotional. Having it named after her and having her ride with the gay pride parade was probably one of the highlights of my life and probably the second highlight was when we had our rodeo in Utah the sons of bitches didn’t tell me that along with Aunty Dee, who is...we call her “the mother of gay rodeo” in Utah, our grand marshal had snuck in me to be a co-grand marshal with her and I didn’t know until the night of the award ceremony so those are two of the biggest highlights of my life when it comes to actually my gay life you might say.
KH: Those two honors and especially them being given to me by my peers who I feel I couldn’t have done anything that they’re honoring me for without their support and without them doing the work they did and I got credit for it. So those are two very humbling, humbling, moments of my life. Sorry about the tears.
RS: In this new generation in Utah, are they young? Are they energized? Do you think it’s...
KH: The people involved with gay rodeo are very young, most of them. There’s a couple oldies, but they’re very energized, they’re go-getters and I hate to say it but sometimes I feel I have to put the reins on a little bit. I like to be a voice of reason with them. And when it comes to the gay community as a whole I lost so many of my peers and compadres to HIV and so many of my compadres now I’m looking at a generation of people who didn’t have to do the fights like we did, didn’t have to face the discrimination, so a lot of them don’t understand the need or the reasoning behind gay organizations like gay rodeo, like the royal court, and those types of organizations because their friends are so accepting of them and will party with them. So it’s going to be a difficult outreach to get these young people to understand the need for these organizations and the camaraderie and the family that they could be a part of, so we have a lot of work ahead of us as a gay rodeo and as an organization in Utah, to bring those young people that word, that information and try and get them involved so that all these organizations can survive.
RS: Do you think that young kids in Utah, who sort of grow up in this predominantly LDS culture, do you think that something like gay rodeo can give them a place?
KH: Oh it definitely can give them a place. One thing is that most of us who come into gay rodeo, and who live in Utah, moved from small rural communities. We grew up on farms. We grew up on cattle ranches. They moved to Utah to get away from all of that and the discrimination, so, you gotta give them five or six years to, as I say, come out with a cigarette in one hand, a drink in the other, and flame at the bars. They’ve gotta go through that identity and hopefully it’s a positive experience and that they don’t fall into some of the pitfalls that can happen with that, and once they get through that they’re going to be a little older and they’re going to start looking for places to spend their energy and a lot of them come back to their roots.
KH: They come back to that family farm thing and I think because of the devastation that happened in our community that generation now is just starting to mature to the point where they’re going to start looking for something besides the bars and besides partying and gay rodeo is a great place for them to land. It’s a healthy, athletic sporting type event and it’s a great family. It’s a great group of people to be involved with and I’m hoping that we can reach out to them and bring them back in. We do have a lot of support outside of our organization.
KH: A lot of people don’t want to be part of the organization but they will support us and I’m looking forward to working with all of them over the next few years.
RS: Do you plan to get back into the arena?
KH: I want back into the arena so bad my teeth ache! The first rodeo I go to I will complete, if I have to drag someone screaming and kicking. I love chute dogging. For those who don’t know what it is, it’s where you climb into a bucking chute with a steer and you hang onto until its nose is ten feet out from the chute and then you dog it to the ground just like in a steer wrestling event. It’s an adrenaline rush, I love it. I enjoy the other events...the camp events and things like that...so, find some partners and get involved.
KH: Some of the guys in Utah know that I know how to ride a horse. I won’t say I’m the best horseman. I’m a great critic but I wouldn’t say I was the best horseman. Or roper. I know how to throw a rope. But I’d love to get back involved in all of that and at my age, which is almost sixty, there aren’t very many rodeo associations or any athletic organizations that you can get involved in and still complete at the highest level.
KH: And I’m in good health and good physical shape so hopefully I can get back in there and do what I used to do when I was completing in the ‘90s, so twenty years later, we’ll see!
RS: So do you consider yourself a cowboy?
KH: You know I think of myself more of a country boy. I call it “cowboy drag” when I dress up in my cowboy clothes. So I think of myself more of a country boy. I don’t think of myself so much as a cowboy because that’s a fantasy life to me and I kind of like to keep that fantasy life. I don’t have a problem putting on a pair of tennis shoes and a pair of cut-offs and a baseball cap and a t-shirt and being comfortable and going to a rodeo or an event but I also like getting dressed up and putting on my boots and my hat and going out, too, so. Does that answer that question?
RS: Yes. Yes I think so. Do you think you’ll do anymore entertaining?
KH: I have been, ah, entertaining at Salt Lake. When I was involved with Pride the royal court was putting on their first pride competition for a Mr., Miss, and Ms. gay pride. At the time I didn’t know it was their first. My co-chair Deb and I found out they didn’t have any contestants, so we went and ran for this title and we ended up with it. So, I have the honor of being the first Mr. Gay Pride of all of Utah, and so I do perform as Mr. Gay Pride and as Mr. UGRA 2002 and 1992. So I don’t mind getting up and performing. I’m kind of a ham anyway, so I enjoy lip synching and doing that stuff. So I’m sure I will. This is an awful thing to say but...we’re going to have a royalty competition in Utah in January and I’m not so sure...I might not run for Mr. UGRA again. [Laughter.]
RS: What’s your favorite thing to lip sync to?
KH: Oh I love country. Older country. 80s country music. And I like songs that are a little different or maybe a little story telling or things like that. I’m not into the new country sound of Florida Georgia Line or Keith Urban or some of those. The George Straits, the Neil McCoys, those people is who I probably lip sync to more than anything and probably my favorite person to lip sync to is a gentleman who was named Chris LeDoux. He...even sings the songs that other people have done such as George Strait, “Amarillo by Morning,” or...oh...I can’t think of his name now! But “Rhinestone Cowboy,” which both Chris LeDoux has recorded and I have recordings of...I actually prefer to perform that version of it than the versions that Glen Campbell or George Strait do, so. [Laughter.]
RS: Do you, like, costume and everything?
KH: Oh, I’m not much of a costume person. I will do a little thing. I did a number by Tim McGraw and, “Something Like That” is the song, and then there’s a line that says “I had a BBQ stain on my white t-shirt” so I wear a shirt and I take a BBQ stain and put it on my shirt. That’s about as much costuming as you’ll see I do. And then the only other thing I’ve ever done is we had a group of guys and we called ourselves “Ugly Girls Really Are,” U.G.R.A., and there was “Wildebeest” and “Utahna Montana,” and my name was “Blanched Trampoline” and we would do a camp drag where we would wear our cowboy boots and pull our pant legs up and put on a skirt and a wig and lipstick, and as you see I have facial hair and it was still there, and that was our way of just kind of having some comedy added to it and that’s the closest I’ve ever come to drag.
RS: What do you think the relationship is between the rodeo and the entertainment wing is today?
KH: I think both are important. Mainly because as rodeo people that’s an event, the entertainment side of it, as you hear them talk today about dance, I think that’s important too because gay rodeo wants to be inclusive and being inclusive means accepting everyone for who they are and having an opportunity for them to be involved. So those who do not want to be in the arena they have the opportunity to not only serve on committees that put on our conventions, fundraising, or they can be an official at a rodeo so that would put them involved...but there’s also those who don’t really want to do any of that and yet the royalty system, being able to do fundraising by lip synching and entertaining and using their talents in that area. So they can kind of go hand in hand, and they should, and again we talked about dance, which is a huge part of the country lifestyle, and getting that back involved and I agree totally that we need to get...blend...all three of those so that everybody out there has a place they feel they can find and fit in gay rodeo and give them an opportunity to participate and be a part of that family.
RS: So moving forward what do you hope to see in the coming years?
KH: I hope to see gay rodeo grow again. I remember when we used to have about twenty rodeos a year. And I hope to see Utah’s association grow and be able to do what we did in the past and put on some successful rodeos and events and become a major player on the gay rodeo circut. I have big dreams and so do the kids that I’m working with so I hope we can put them together and make them come true.
RS: Is there anything you want to talk about that I didn’t ask you?
KH: I can’t think of anything right off the top of my head, other than maybe the political climate we’re in now but that maybe is the worst thing we could ever talk about. [Laughter.]
RS: No, I, this is important. Do you think that’s going to affect, especially in a place like Utah...
KH: You know, LDS people are good people to be around and they don’t want to hurt our community but at the same time they’re not sure how to go about things without doing that and so yeah they do hurt it. I feel the leadership of the organization doesn’t understand who we are. I think they’re so out of touch, just like our government doesn’t understand what’s going on in the cities and streets of our country, and that makes it hard for organizations like us who are on the fringe to be able to do the things we’d like to do without having to come up against some resistance a times, however, as long as we respect one another then I think can always work together, and...that’s always my hope is that we can have mutual respect for one another and move forward.
KH: At the same time I’m not afraid to yell once in a while to get the attention of those that I need to get the attention of to get that mutual respect. I have been at protests where I’ve been a little out there. [Laughter.] And I haven’t been ashamed of it but at the same time it never was meant to hurt it was meant to. I’ve been attacked when I’ve done booths at different organizations. An education fair, when I was doing an HIV booth, I was attacked verbally for a good four or five minutes by a gentleman before they finally came and removed him. So, I have had those opportunities to see what it’s like.
KH: I have been fearful at times. I had a guy pull a gun on me once and it wasn’t the most awful thing but it wasn’t a pleasant thing either. It turned out to be something that I could get away from and not have to deal with. I was much, much, younger at the time and much, much, more stupid and naive. The situation probably wouldn’t have bothered me at all now if that same situation had happened. I would have handled it differently. But, ah, I see the world growing not only on gay rights but on women’s rights, on other rights that all people are to be treated equally and I’m hoping that someday our world can get there.
RS: Me, too. Thank you for your time today.
KH: No problem.
: [Recording ends.]
: Note: This transcript has been reviewed by the interviewee who made edits to portions of the interview. The transcript no longer matches the audio interview in the edited sections.