Jack Truman has been involved with gay rodeos for 20 years in many capacities, although none has been riding a horse or bull in the competitions. Instead he has chosen to serve in events like Wild Drag and work behind the scenes as rodeo director, which involves months of planning before the rodeo. This year will be his last official role, although I’m sure his alter ego, Trixie, won’t be retiring.
This year, Truman is serving as vice president and rodeo director for the Missouri Gay Rodeo Association event. He began his involvement with gay rodeos with the California statewide rodeo, and then individual gay rodeos in Sacramento, Oklahoma City and Texas, before joining MGRA when he moved from California 13 years ago.
“I do this because I love it,” he said.
“All my goals and achievements that I’ve set for myself with this group I’ve met or exceeded,” he said. He found the event’s first liquor sponsor, Miller Lite. This last year, they switched to Coors Light.
Olathe Dodge, a sponsor from last year, is providing even more this year, he said, and sending all trucks for the morning parade around the arena.
And he has recruited lots of other sponsors as well. “Last year,” Truman said, “we had 38 buckle sponsors and I sold 34 of them.”
The 2013 rodeo will once again be held at the Lone Wolf Ranch Arena in Cleveland, Mo.
“We’ve looked at several venues closer to town and not chosen them because they’re not covered and because of our weather conditions — you never know.”
He said the rodeo participants like the venue as well, because many of them camp out and bring their trailers.
“It’s more of a country lifestyle out there,” he said.
Although some have expressed feelings that the 30-minute drive to the arena is too far away, Truman pointed out that it’s not uncommon for many rodeos in other cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Calgary to be even farther from the host city.
Truman explained why a rodeo based in Kansas City, Mo., doesn’t use the arenas right in town that are part of the American Royal Center in the West Bottoms. “First of all, even the smaller Hale Arena, we’re talking like $8,000 to $10,000 per day. Basically it’s a financial reason. One year we did have it at Hale, and it basically wiped us out, almost bankrupted us.”
Other reasons, he said, include the fact that the group would have to give up control of liquor sales at Hale Arena, while at Lone Wolf that is a small profit center for them, and that Hale Arena is so large, which would leave empty-looking bleachers.
The theme of this year’s rodeo is “20 Years of Boots, Butts and Trucks,” Truman said, but MGRA has actually been around for 27 years. There were years, he said, when the group did not host rodeos. Many cities often skip a year, he said.
His rodeo co-director is Debbie “Cowgirl” Cowgur from Peoria, Ill. “Her last name is actually spelled Cowgur but everyone refers to her as cowgirl,” Truman said with a laugh.
“She has a huge ranch, and that is where they hold their rodeo. I can choose who I want — they don’t necessarily have to be a part of MGRA. She’s a straight woman. From the day I met her, I just had this awe of her. She’s my soulmate.”
Truman was born in Oklahoma and raised in California. “My mom called me a cotton-picking Okie,” he said with a laugh. He and his former partner Jim Lilly, who is now his roommate, best friend, and a fellow rodeo participant, own two horses that they board in a private stable.
“We had a 1,000-acre horse farm in Pleasant Hill, Mo., that we sold seven years ago,” he said.
Truman has also competed in rodeo events. “My main event is the wild drag. It’s me, it’s ‘Trixie,’ getting on a steer and crossing the line,” he said. “I’ve done chute dogging, bulls. When I first started on the circuit, I did bulls and broncs.”
He said he first got into rodeos through a boyfriend he met after he divorced his wife. “I met my first cowboy love. … He’s the one who introduced me to rodeo.”
Truman said he’s won “probably 50 ribbons, and my current count is 12 buckles.”
He said that many people who participate in rodeos travel to compete beyond their home rodeos.
“It’s nothing to drop a $1,000 bill,” he said, on travel expenses. For people who own horses and travel with trailers, he estimated expenses: “I’d say, on average, $10,000 per year.”
Truman was not raised on a ranch. He got into the rodeo somewhat later in life and said, “It’s never too late to start.”
“I went to a country bar in Sacramento, and they were having what we call back here a ‘Meet and Greet’ at a beautiful estate. Anyway, it was a hoedown and I was hooked. I was hooked and hoe’d,” he laughed.
He teaches bartending at the International School of Professional Bartending in the Crossroads area of Kansas City. He said he gets immediate rewards from teaching because he has students graduating weekly in the 40-hour program, which is completed in either a week or two weeks.
Ironically for a bartending instructor, Truman has been sober for three years. He credits Lilly for helping him through the tough times. “Both with this and my rodeo positions, he’s been by my side through thick and thin.”
He said that drinking was a big part of the parties around rodeos. “I just woke up one day and said, ‘I’m done.’ My quitting drinking was not as much an addiction as just waking up one day and saying to myself, ‘You’re a hot mess, time to quit drinking.’”
Truman is also a singer. “I’m one of the lead singers at MCC church and I’m always singing at fundraisers.”
Of his time directing the rodeo, Truman said: “I want to thank the board for allowing me to have the honor of this position because it is a milestone in MGRA history. Because even though I am retiring, I think it’s an honor to be the captain, so to speak.”
The cost of the rodeo is $12 in advance and $15 at the gate. Parking is free. Truman said they like this to be a family event, so admission is free for children under 8, and people can even bring their dogs, as long as they are on leashes. Another popular event for children is the petting zoo inside the arena.
The MGRA invites people to stay for the awards banquet dinner on Sunday evening at 7 p.m. which is only $12. Vendors can have a table, which is $20 for both days and free for nonprofits. Saturday night’s event will have a live band and also a DJ.
For those visiting to attend or participate in the rodeo, they have two host hotels. One is the Q Hotel in Westport, for those staying in town, with a $79 MGRA rate, and the other is the Hampton Inn in Belton, Mo., for those staying out closer to the rodeo, with an $80 MGRA rate.
This year, the MGRA rodeo will benefit Passages, a group for Kansas City’s LGBT young people.