Interview with Jack Morgan

Duncans Mills, California on September 11, 2016 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield and I am here today with Jack Morgan. It's September 11, 2016 and were at Duncan Mills at the Rodeo on the River. Can you tell me what year you were born?
Jack Morgan: 1968
RS: And where did you grow up?
JM: I grew up in Denver, Colorado. So, just right outside in Aravalli, so, but pretty much in Denver.
RS: Is that a very urban environment?
JM: No, not at all. I mean, it’s literally right outside the border of Denver, so I say Denver, but technically Aravalli. Easier to say Denver.
RS: I understand. Did you have a very large family?
JM: So, I'm the youngest of four siblings. I have my brothers ten years older than me and then two sisters older than that. So, kind of the baby of that, so pretty much grew up as an only child, you know.
RS: What did your family do for a living?
JM: So, my dad owned a- my mom was a stay-at-home mother and my dad owned a general contracting construction business. So, grew up in a construction industry.
RS: Did you do much ranch work or farming as a kid?
JM: You know, no, actually. Until I became, we didn't at all. We did a lot of hunting and fishing growing up. So, pretty much every weekend I grew up either hunting and fishing up in Grand Lake and Grand Vere and my grandparents owned a cabin up there. So, spent a lot of time in that kind of environment. Then, as I got more into my teens, I became kind of familiar and acquainted with the ranch community, and a lot of farmers out in the area. So, that's kind of what my first attraction was. A lot of it was some other things, but that was kind of what first got me exposed western kind of heritage and lifestyle.
RS: Did you do any rodeo or 4H or anything like that in high school?
JM: I didn't, no. I didn't do anything until, except, it was probably my teen years, mid to late teen years, when I really got acquainted with it. And then, you know, when I was growing up it wasn't acceptable to be gay, especially in the western lifestyle. And so, I have the advantage of having a lot of history where Charlie’s, with Wayne Jakino, Jerry Cunningham, some of my great friends, Anthony Aragon. And so we were kind of the early stages of it. So, got involved because, number one proximity, the openness, the community, the family, the comradery between everybody. So, that's kind of what attracted to me, initially, and then I just kind of migrated through it.
RS: Now, you mentioned Charlie's. Can you say what Charlie's was and how you were involved?
JM: Sure, so Charlie's is a gay country western bar. And with the old Charlie's, I think they just celebrated 25 years of their new location, but their original location was out on East Colfax. And so as I became familiar with, kind of, the lifestyle and some of the the younger gay folks, like myself, it was a place for us to kind of be ourselves, be around other country western folks and fans, and that lifestyle. And so I spent a lot of time just dancing, that was kind of my first introduction, right. Was on the Charlie's Cloggers, not sure if you know what clogging is, but so I was on the the Charlie's Cowboy Cloggers and we had performed across the country. And kind of initially, rodeos is where we started, but we always locally, Aspen's gay ski week, and stuff like that. So, it's kind of the bonds initially started of lifelong friendships.
RS: And when did you really get involved at Charlie's?
JM: So, probably 1988 is, 1989, somewhere in their, kind of familiar with it. And then really started heavily with it, ‘89, ‘90, is when I started heavily, frequenting the place. And it was my weekend hangout and dancing all night and every night.
RS: And then when did you make the jump from Charlie's to IGRA?
JM: So, in the early 90s was one of my first volunteers, and it’s when we brought in dirt actually, to make an arena. And because at that point it was difficult to find places that would rent to you, and the cost, and really the initial onset was to help our brother in the community, right. Because AIDS was a big crisis, that and there wasn't a lot of people and a lot of help doing things, and so that was kind of. [Emotional] Sorry, so yeah, it was us trying to help each other cause there was no federal funding, there wasn't a lot of help. So, that's kind of why we started, right, so that we could compete with something we do, safe environment, and help one another. I don't know where that came from.
RS: That charitable aspect of IGRA, is that still present today even after the end of the AIDS epidemic?
JM: Yeah, absolutely, and I think it's benefited that we've been able to expand because of federal funding for HIV and AIDS and all the rest of us, is that we've been able to expand our community to way past our community. So, we do a lot of pediatric things, animal care, animal welfare, breast cancer, women health. So, we've been really able to be a lot more broad in what are outreach have been. Which is, you know, that's really what an organization should do. I mean, we needed to be focused at a point, but we've been able to do so much more and accomplish so much more for our communities, and that's really what it is. Communities supporting communities right. And so, each association has, can kind of dictate and determine what's important to their community and their associations. So, you know, most associations give bids or allow people to come in and say, "Hey, you know, we would like to be a partner with you," or whatever. And so the associations themselves decided. Which is really cool, cause then it stays within the communities.
RS: Now, when you first got involved, did you do some of the early dance competitions at the rodeos?
JM: I didn't do dance competitions. I always danced, but I wasn't that great of a dancer that I could do the competitions. Like I said, we were the Cowboy Country Cloggers, we performed kind of all over. Both at at rodeos and non-rodeos, but at highly sponsored events. We kind of represent, the cool thing about it is we were able to represent that country lifestyle, outside of just the rodeo. So it was always good cause it brought a widened exposure to us.
RS: Now, I know the dance competitions have sort of fallen away, do you think that's a big loss for the community or?
JM: I do. I think there is a lot of things that are a loss. I think that's one of them, right. I think that sometimes we've wrote our own challenges, because for so long, we wanted to be accepted, we wanted to be mainstream, and we've done that. But, by doing that, we've also lost some of our sub communities, which not just the cowboys out to see the western lifestyle is one of those sub communities, and so you know I count my blessings. It's funny a lot of us talk about this, us older folks, is that we had a really tight knit community, and we still do for the most part. But the younger generations is so accepted they, I think that subculture when we were growing up, because you had to identify with something. Were you cowboy, were you leather, were you circuit boy, whatever it was, right. And so, I think that the morals, the emotions, the friendships that developed, the family that developed, sometimes the older community is more dedicated because of that. So, there is good and bad to it, and that's the bad. The good is that we are much more widely accepted and can be a part of anything.
RS: Yeah, do you notice it's harder to recruit younger people to the rodeo?
JM: Absolutely, absolutely. I think IGRA has done a great job of expanding its philosophy, and I don't even know if its expanding it's philosophy, so much us, as other people being more willing to come in. So, we see a lot more straight folks coming in, bi folks, transgender, whatever that looks like to be apart of us. And we didn't always have that before, so that's nice to see. That it's not a big deal. It's about who you are, not what you are. And that's been a big change and transition welcomed.
RS: What other changes have you seen from the early days when you were participating to now?
JM: You know, we used to be a lot bigger, back in the '90s, in the heyday, you know. One of my favorite rodeos was the San Diego, it was at Del Mar, a huge horse track. We had two arenas because we had so many people, or the early Phoenix rodeos that would start at seven in the morning and run til eleven or twelve at night. So, we've seen a trail off in that kind of community, in a sense. And I think a couple reasons, I think number one, because of the acceptance. You know, people can compete in other areas, as well. I think the other thing is that we, people have, again, I go back to what I said, I think people, our subcultures aren't as specific. And let’s face it, equestrian and rodeos are not a cheap sport, I mean it's very expensive. By the time you drive, you fly, you haul, you do all this stuff, you have people who don't have horses. I mean even to just come to some of our entry level events is expensive. So, I think that's a couple big changes.
RS: Have you yourself ever competed?
JM: I have.
RS: What did you compete in?
JM: I used to compete in most of the camp events, so, the goat dressing, and steer deco, and wild drag. Wild drag was always my favorite, still my favorite. It's just, it's fun. It's one of our signature events, right. It's something that's kind of exclusive to us. It's a team of three people. I mean, it's just fun, it partnership, it's team, it's a little bit, you know, obviously the fashion aspect of it is incredible.
RS: Yeah, what do you think those events sort of add to to gay rodeo, because they are so distinctive from other rodeos?
JM: Which events?
RS: The camp events.
JM: I think definitely wild drag. I think our dressing, as well, because you need no skills to do it, you go out there and put a pair of panties on. So, I think that's the one that opens up the most doors to people to allow them to expose it, to get exposure to it, and see that we are just here to have a good time. Generally, when people do that, they kind of get hooked, they start seeing bonds and the friendship. Ty, a friend of ours, passed away from cancer many years ago. She was amazing, cause she always said, “I will go out there and teach you everything I know. Then, I'm going to kick your ass.” I think that's kind of the arching overview philosophy, is that we are going to help each other as much as we can, gonna go out there and compete, and be friends after. Teach you everything I can and help you, as well, and then I'm going to compete against you, as well, don't forget that. And I think that's what makes it fun right, because it's not a hostile environment, it's loving.
RS: When did you become a judge?
JM: So, 2001 was my first rodeo that I judged. So, I've been judging for almost 15 years now, so, quite awhile.
RS: Is there any aspects that you enjoy more than competing?
JM: Wow, that's a great question, they are really different, right? Judging is, you get to see all the events, you get to see all the people. And it's funny because people come up and say, “Did you see me in this event?” or “Did you see me in that event?” And, “No, I was watching the process.” So, you, one of the things that is hard is that you don't get to watch your friend competes because you are kind of blind to that, right? You don't get to see that, but one of the really cool things is you get to create an even playing field and you get to make sure it's a fair environment for everybody. And I like that, I like that everybody has the same opportunity. You know, where as a contestant goes out and does an event one time, that's the one time. We may have 50 or 100, whatever, contestants when we have 30 people in one event or more. And every contestant has to be a brand new fresh set of eyes in the new event for you, so that you are fair. So, I think that's kind of one of those things that I like, is every time you have to kind of start, reset, and refocus your energy. Because to you, to them, that's their 20th time to you, then you've got to be focused as if it' your first time.
RS: Yeah, that's a present a whole new set of challenges.
JM: It does.
RS: How many rodeos do you judge on average in a year?
JM: So this year I'm judging twelve of our fifteen, so I generally do between eight and twelve a year.
RS: And can I ask what you do for a living?
JM: Yeah, I manage a (?) supply chain.
RS: Okay, so how do you balance your rodeo workload with your work workload?
JM: I've been very, very fortunate. So, my job for years, being in supply chain, I have the ability to work from the road. So, as long as I have a laptop, and a WiFi connection, and a telephone I can pretty much do my job anywhere. And that really has freed me up a lot, cause planes even have WiFi now, so, I can pretty much work anywhere. So, that's the other one challenge, another one of the challenges with our contestants. It's not only expensive, but it's a lot of time off work. And the same for our officials, everything we do is volunteer. But it's a lot of time off work, to get here, and to do all this stuff. So, yeah, I've been fortunate that I've been able to work from the road a lot.
RS: Now, are you out, in terms of your work life and your family?
JM: 100%. I've been out since I was fifteen years old. I guess I'm one of the goal. I've never even been with a women in my life. Yeah, my family is completely cool with it, amazing supportive family, an amazing set of friends, It's always been very important to me to be out at work, and I'm completely 100% out. As a matter of fact, several of my coworkers have gay events, gay rodeos, gay other events. So, yeah, I'm 100% out.
RS: Was that at all difficult for you to come out at such a young age?
JM: Probably one of the most difficult things of my life. So, when you grow up, especially when you grow up in a blue collar family, you're supposed to be able do all these things. And I always dreamed of having kids, and growing up, a gay couple couldn't have kids. That just wasn't in the cards. Now, today, thank god through marriage and equality, all the rest of the things, marriage and kids is just normal. So, I always said growing up, I wanted the white picket fence, the kids, and one of the husbands sitting with his wife. So, one of the most difficult thing for me was that, the realization that in order to be true of who I was, that I would never be able to obtain that. At least not that, right. Today's times are different, and I thank God for the kids being able, the younger generation, I guess I should say, to be able to have that ability to really establishing that for a life. Not that we didn't before, but to be able to be publicly accepted for, you know. So, yeah, it was a very difficult thing.
RS: Now, Denver can be seen as a pretty conservative area. Did living there present any challenges for you, as an out gay man? And has that changed over time?
JM: Yeah, you know, and for myself, no. I was always true to myself. Did I always hear the faggot in the back, queer? Absolutely, I don't think it matters where you live, you're always going to hear that. Are you always going to have the prejudices and homophobia? Yeah. Was it much more prevalent then, than it is today? Yeah. Does it still exist? Yeah. Do I still hear faggot or queer behind my back today? You do, right. So, Denver can be conservative, but I think that society, in general, and especially Denver, has... I mean we have weed, that's legal, for god sake. So, yes, it's made a huge transition and it's a pretty hip cool area, anymore. But, I think it relates also, thank God, I never had deal with the gay bashing, or the fights, or getting hit, or anything like that. I stood my own ground. But number two, is that I never, I wasn't, I didn't put myself in those situations. I mean coming out so early, I mean my gay friends, that was my environment. And again it goes back, I think you had to choose your subcultures, where you stood, and so I was just never apart of that. And I had amazing gay friends that I'd met when I was a teenager, that are still just incredible friends that I've had for 30 plus years.
RS: Did you ever run into any homophobia at some of the early gay rodeos that you went to?
JM: Yeah, we've been protested at gates, we've had signs, we've had all those kind of things happen. As a matter of fact, we had a rodeo in Florida, I don't know, it was probably 2008, 2010, and it was when I first went in, and major letters of picketing, and “God hate fags,” “Out with the gay stuff.” And, for example, that rodeo was in Davy County, which is a pretty homophobic, traditional in a scene. And the association there did such an amazing job of outreach to the local communities. For example, they had some of the local communities come in and do their parking and they got to keep the money. In a couple instances, it was able to send some of the high school people to cheer camps and band camps and do things that they wouldn't have been able to do before. And by the third, fourth, fifth year, everybody wanted to do their parking. So, those kind of things, of being true to yourself, can really open up a lot of doors for people to see, you are just like everybody else. All you want to do is life, laugh, and love and eat dinner, and go play with your dog, right? I mean that's really what it is. And so, I think that one of the things about IGRA and gay rodeo, is that it allows people to see a different avenue that, “Hey, we are just normal folks.” We can go out there in drag, and dress in a wig, and laugh at ourselves, and have a good time, and get on a steer or a bull, and we allow the same equality for women to be able to get on a bull and a steer. And I think that's one of the educational pieces that's really important to us that we've been able to achieve and acquire.
RS: Yeah, have you watched a lot of women do the rough stock riding?
JM: Absolutely. And I cheer every time.
RS: What are some other big difference you've noticed between the atmosphere of a gay rodeo and the more mainstream rodeo?
JM: Sure. So, I think that mainstream traditional rodeo is a lot more tense, is a lot more uptight, a lot more competitive because there is much higher prize dollars involved. People here are amateurs, they have jobs, they do this during the weekend. It's a sense of community, it's a sense of family. And so I think that's important, as well, and that's one of the, that's probably the most significant difference that I see. You know, there's a show performance, too. I mean obviously when you go to rodeo it's a lot more show and a lot more fast. Our rodeos aren't fast, but they're fun and they create, not only inside the arena, the people that compete, but the spectators have come, that have never been to our rodeo before, gain new friendships. I think, so, the eagerness, the ability to gain new relationships and friendships is a big difference to me, that I've seen.
RS: Do you go to many, like PRCA ?
JM: I do. You know, Denver's home of the National Stock Show, so I go to Finals in Vegas. So, yeah, I do a lot of traditional rodeos as well.
RS: Have you ran into any homophobia there?
JM: Oh yes, absolutely, absolutely. And, you know, I think it’s again more prevalent. I mean, it's changing and less prevalent than it was, but it's much more prevalent twenty years ago. But I think that as it becomes more mainstream in America, it become more mainstream in some of the cultures. Western lifestyle is still a pretty conservative culture, and I think that we're nowhere where we should be, but we've made more strides in my lifetime then I every thought would be, in that aspect. I never thought in my lifetime I would be able to go to a traditional rodeo, have my arms around a guy, and I totally feel comfortable with that. You know, you might hear some comments, but I don't feel fear like I used to.
RS: How about any sort of displays of other sorts of prejudice, like blatant forms of racism, at either mainstream or gay rodeo?
JM: You know, I wouldn't say that gay rodeo I sense that. Straight rodeo I still think there'’s traditionally more from the males than the females at traditional rodeos, that's just what I sense. Yeah, you definitely see it, and the racism, the homophobia, whatever you want to call it, that it's just not… People have a hard time wrapping their head around that you can be gay and cowboy. That you can be gay and get your boots dirty, and your jeans, and hats dirty and that's okay. There's still that perception out there that gay people have to be stereotyped, so, I think that we have made strides, but have a long ways to go on that, yeah. I think those stereotypes still exist.
RS: Now, going back to your youth at Charlie’s, what was it about Charlie’s that sort of drew you into that community?
JM: Well, the guys. I mean, so obviously being a gay guy, right, I liked very masculine men and that was probably on it, honestly. That was one of the initial attractions. I was younger and I went to different types of environments and different types of bars, I just saw a lot of superficialness, maybe by their fault, or maybe by the environment. But what I found with Charlie's and the country western lifestyle, IGRA, rodeo is that people seem to be a lot more genuine, a lot more caring, and just plain real. And I established friendships from this avenue that have lasted forever, where the other avenues, you couldn't. It was always the very trendy and very fad, and I think that Charlie's, the Western lifestyle and rodeo, goes below the surface to really the core of who you are, in my opinion.
RS: And do you identify as a cowboy?
JM: Yeah, I do identify as a cowboy.
RS: What does that mean to you?
JM: I think, first and foremost, a high degree of morals and ethics, honorbality, and a man of his word. So, I think that a cowboy can be defined as someone that's on a horse in an arena, roping and stuff, but to me, that's a part of it. But what it really means is who you are at your core, and I identify with that.
RS: Have you ever, do you associate rodeo in any sort of way with any religious aspects of your life at all?
JM: No, I don't. I'm not a super religious person, I said earlier when I came out at fifteen, I thank God I came out. I believe there's something greater than us, I think that I know there's something greater than us. I don't know what that is, so I'm not a super religious person. I do thank God that he led me down this path and down this journey in my life, but I don't, you know. I didn’t grow up as a hugely religious person, my family was, but that was always kind of a conflict, right. Because I never, I struggled with the religious aspect of of denying somebody love or equality because of the person they were.
RS: Has rodeo affected any sort of part of your life outside of your sort of weekend family, in terms of work or relationships or anything like that?
JM: Sure, it's been very difficult. When you’re judging this many rodeos a year. And you know, it's funny, I was adding up my badges the other day and I've done, this year at Finals will be my 200th rodeo. So, I figured I've spent about 8,500 hours volunteering and over $16,000 of my own money to give back to my own community. So, that's a lot of, that's four years of a full time job. So yeah, things, you know, things suffer. I have an amazing supporting network, my sister's a photographer, every time we are in Denver she comes out, does all the photos and posts us and sends them to all the cowboys and girls, and so that's awesome. But yeah, I think there's things that are a struggle. It's tough to get on a plane and fly and drive and do all these things, and you know, after working a full day and then work remote for the full day. As a matter of fact, here we have no cell phone service here. So, I had to be at the parking lot in Safeway at 6:30 on Friday morning taking a conference call. So yeah, you make sacrifices personally and your family. My mom is a little bit older and more mature, and not in such great health, but to give you an example of the kind of support there is, this year in Vegas I got a call that things weren't so great on Sunday, and the rest of our judging team judged the rest of the event the rest of the day, and I was on a plane in an hour. So that's the kind of support you get.
RS: Is there any part of your experience that I haven't asked you about that you would like to talk about?
JM: No, I think we've been I think we've been pretty comprehensive. Like I said, I think that it's an amazing culture, that I wish still was as predominate as it was. And sometimes I think we forget where we came from, and that's why I think this is so important, and the reason we started because we were helping one another. We were helping out communities and watching out for one another.
RS: Do you still go to Charlie's?
JM: What's that?
RS: Do you still go to Charlie's?
JM: Of course I do. Yep. You know, one of my mentors was one of Jon Kino, we would play bridge at his house on Friday nights. He was, you know, he, I am honored to say he was not only a mentor, but he was a great friend of mine. And so, you know, that was an important relationship that helped me develop into the person and man that I am.
RS: If he were alive today do you think he would be proud of the association he helped build?
JM: Absolutely, absolutely. He would put his arm around you and in that deep voice tell you something that you could always do better, but yeah. I think that him and one of the other people, John, I don't know if you've talked to him, but John Beck, very old cowboy. Jon's a great friend of mine and has been for many, many years. You know, him and Wayne sitting in the bar of Charlie’s writing the rules of wild drag, you know. I mean it was somebody from Durango and somebody from Nebraska that did a lot, people sometimes forget.
RS: Well, thank you for talking to me.
JM: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I don't know why I cried.