The Windy City Rodeo may be over for this year, but the debate about alleged animal cruelty—as connected to the event—rages on. Here, Daniel Hauff of PETA ( People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ) and Brian Helander of IGRA ( The International Gay Rodeo Association ) offer their own views on the subject.
As a Chicago gay man and an animal advocate, I felt that it was time to see exactly what goes on at the gay rodeo. I contacted the president of the International Gay Rodeo Association ( IGRA ) and asked for behind-the-scenes access—specifically access to the animals and to the chutes—during the recent Windy City Rodeo. I was granted permission, but once I arrived at the rodeo, I was not allowed anywhere near the chutes or the animals, and I was repeatedly harassed by the property owners.
Rodeos, whether gay or straight, inflict pain, misery and fear on animals for 'fun.' Every year at PETA, we hear about animals being abused during gay rodeos. We hear about animals' tails being painfully twisted and about animals being injured. Normally gentle animals such as horses and calves are provoked into 'wild' behaviors with spurs, electric prods and straps cinched tightly around their abdomens. Even when animals aren't injured—although they often are—they still suffer from fear and pain during these events. When they are too old, tired or injured to continue on the rodeo circuit, most of these animals end up at slaughterhouses.
This year, I asked for access to the chutes, where most of the hidden abuses occur, to challenge gay rodeo organizers' assertions that they are 'pro-animal.' Brian Helander, the president of IGRA, agreed to let me film the rodeo with unrestricted access. But when I arrived, I was kept far from the chutes and was not allowed to go near the animals, who were left in direct sunlight the entire day. The rules about where I could stand changed constantly. I was also forced to engage in ugly conversation with the property owners, who were mean and bullying. I felt like I was back in high school, being harassed for being gay.
Worst of all, I saw and filmed the same abuses this year that animal advocates have witnessed every year at the gay rodeo.
IGRA rodeos include roughstock and roping events such as bull riding, calf roping and chute dogging—cruelly twisting a steer's head by holding onto the horns and wrestling the struggling animal to the ground—as well as camp events like goat dressing and steer decorating. In goat dressing, participants yank goats' hind legs off the ground and force underwear onto them. This is done as quickly as possible, making injuries more likely. One young goat was limping after this demeaning spectacle, but no one seemed to notice in all of the 'excitement.'
As a community that has fought so long to overcome violence, humiliation and prejudice because of who we are, is this really the type of 'entertainment' that we want to support? I believe it is imperative that we foster in young people pride in and respect for themselves and all those around them—humans and animals alike. Promoting rodeo events and other cruel animal acts sends the dangerous message that entertainment based on suffering and ridicule is not only allowed, it is encouraged. Let us, as a community, stand up against cruelty—in all its forms.
Daniel Hauff is the Animals in Entertainment Specialist for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals ( PETA ) ; 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.BuckTheRodeo.com .
I did get a call from Daniel from PETA. The first thing I told him was that as IGRA president I had no say in where he could or could not go at the Chicago Rodeo venue; even I get a pass that allows me in certain area and NOT in others. I told him that we do not allow cruelty and as far as I was concerned, IGRA has nothing to hide and lots to be proud of when it comes to animal issues and he could come and film whatever he wanted to film. I told him I would meet him at the rodeo, make arrangements. I said that I saw no problem with unrestricted picture-taking but we would have to discuss with the local association.
Yes, I did tell Daniel that I am an animal lover with two of the most spoiled horses and one Labrador named Jax who is treated better than some children in our world.
We use animal partners, horses and stock in the rodeo and are serious about protecting them from harm. I apologized to Daniel for any misunderstanding I may have caused and told him I would work with him and PETA to show him a behind-the-scenes look at a gay rodeo in the future since there is nothing going on anywhere on our circuit that I or IGRA is ashamed of. At the same time, I must protect IGRA against sensationalism and dramatic misrepresentations of reality and at this point—knowing what was said, what he saw and what he wrote—Daniel has lost my trust.
I received this e-mail from Daniel after the rodeo:
'Brian, Thank you for inviting me to see the rodeo, even though I didn't get to see what I came for. If you can set something up for another time that will give me access to the chutes and the animals, let me know. Sincerely, Daniel Hauff'
Daniel was virtually behind the chutes and free to film anything he wanted to. ( In fact, he appeared to have filmed for eight hours. ) He did not see what he came for because nothing cruel ever happened.
Rodeo and PETA will never agree, but I told Daniel that IGRA takes the lead in animal issues. I took time to listen to his views, to try to understand his perspective and listen for any legitimate concerns. Frankly, we are not that far apart on our views. We have an animal issues committee that advocates only for the animals and makes sure they are cared for under the rules. In addition, we must have a vet on the grounds before starting the rodeo.
Daniel met the chair of this committee at the Windy City Rodeo and had a long discussion with him about IGRA's policies, none of which were reported in the letter from Daniel. The gap in our views ( IGRA and PETA's ) is the difference between use and abuse, and after reading this report and knowing the facts, I fear will never approach a common viewpoint. PETA wants us to stop competing and we never will. PETA insists we are cruel and we know we are not.
We do not use 'electric prods.' They are specifically prohibited.
Daniel, what abuses did you film...tail twisting??? The tail is 24 inches of dead skin with a 6-8 inch muscle at the top that cannot be twisted. I did not shrug it off; it just doesn't rise to the level of cruelty and I took the time to explain this to Daniel.
Daniel, half the truth is very often a great lie. You can view our animal welfare policy at www.igra.com .
Patrons of gay rodeo support animal welfare and the humane, responsible treatment of animals in their housing, feeding, exercising, hygiene and medical needs. These men and women further believe that the raising of animals in a humane manner to be pets or recreational companions is rewarding for both the animals and humans involved.
Brian Helander, IGRA President, Phoenix, Ariz.