When I began thinking about capturing the rodeo on film, I didn’t set out to make a documentary. Matt in SBIFF

I was originally doing research for a scripted television show I hoped to develop, a show about salt-of-the-earth rodeo cowboys roping and riding through the American west. It all stemmed from a trip to a Cody, Wyoming rodeo with my dad when I was only three years old. Since then, rodeo has always been a fascinating subject for me. It’s a sport and a culture where you can avoid the fast-changing world and go back to simpler times. But I also found the world of rodeo to be incredibly homogenous.

That is, until I was at a “straight” rodeo in Colorado and sat next to a lesbian couple in the stands. They informed me that they rarely come to straight rodeo events. What do you mean “straight” rodeo events? It was the first time I’d ever heard of the gay rodeo. But the moment I did, I immediately understood why the distinction was necessary. It was clear to me that a documentary would be far more meaningful than a scripted show. So I quit my job and went on a three-year journey.

My very first weekend shooting gay rodeo, I met four different people who each offered their horses to me should I decide to “put down the silly camera and do some rodeo.” Total strangers were offering me their prized ponies? What the hell was this place? It set an immediate tone of just how inviting the IGRA circuit is – something I’d never seen before on the traditional circuit. From there it was walking in the boots of the many gay men and women who eat, sleep and breathe the country western life. Folks who’ve grown up with rodeo all their lives and never had a safe place to compete until they found a family in the IGRA (International Gay Rodeo Association). Growing up in a city, and even on most of our major media, our culture completely accepts the LGBTQ community. However, there were many reminders throughout the production of QUEENS & COWBOYS where I learned that there are still two Americas.

For instance, some competitors still compete under aliases, having not come out to their families or places of work — they were understandably terrified of a kid with a camera. Meeting these cowboys was my first reality-check that beyond the fun and glitz of rodeo was a serious outlet for those who didn’t feel safe outside the arena gates. It immediately upped the stakes of the little project I’d set out on.

The goal of this film is to start a conversation. Not about the differences in our sexuality, but in the commonalities that unite us. QUEENS & COWBOYS is about passion, belonging, tradition — it’s about finding your bull and having the courage to, as Wade Earp puts it, “get up, dust yourself off, and keep going”.

I’m grateful for the brave and wise people I’ve met along this journey. And I thank you for taking the time to learn more about this film.