Beginning in 1980, a popular disco called “The Broadway” in Denver introduced Country/Western nights with Ron Jesser teaching the two-step. It became so popular that the club dropped its disco format and catered strictly to this new country crowd and changed their name to “Broadway Country.”
The city of Denver and the changing need for government buildings brought the “Broadway Country” to a roaring halt in January 1981 when the city gained control of the property for a new Justice Building. Denver’s two-steppers were still hungry for a place to “do their thing” and one of the most ardent fans gambled his world to bring a country dance floor back to the gay community.
John King opened “Charlie’s” in early June 1981 and the urban cowboys were again happy. The underground gossip chain rumored that country bars were springing up all across the nation and believe it or not, a gay rodeo in Reno, Nevada! A handful of adventuresome cowboys from Denver decided to check it out and even if it wasn’t true, Reno had great casinos. It proved true and a couple of men even became contestants.
The boys from Denver saw an unbelievable mass of gay humanity coming together in Country/Western celebration. A couple of groups from San Francisco introduced square dancing (The Foggy City Squares), clogging (The Barbary Coast Cloggers), and a line dance called “Kaw-Liga.” Rose Maddox belted out a theme that the gay community dearly loved, “Stand By Your Man.” Everywhere you looked, the Pride of Texas was in front of you with great looking T-shirts and loads of enthusiasm. The Texas group had raised nearly $40,000 for Muscular Dystrophy and their Miss candidate even won the title of Miss Reno National Gay Rodeo.
At the closing party in a jam-packed room at the Sands Hotel, the newly crowned Miss Reno National Gay Rodeo (Miss Texas) came face to face with Wayne Jakino. He couldn’t move left or right and felt compelled to congratulate Miss Texas. She responded, “Thank you, and where are ya’ll from?” Jakino said he was from Denver and Miss Texas chided, “Well, ya’ll might as well of not shown up from all we have seen of you.” Jakino let his mouth overload and snapped, “Yeah, but check us out next year!”
Excited about the Reno weekend, Jesser asked John King if Charlie’s would allow a group to meet to talk rodeo. The first meeting saw Jesser, Jakino, and seven other men commit themselves to form the Colorado Gay Rodeo Association (CGRA) and return in force to Reno.
In just a little over a month on September 13, 1981, the new association elected its first officers with 42 people present and made its first public appearance at a community fundraiser that evening. Jakino was elected President and his memory burned with the taunting he had received from Miss Texas. It was now “Reno or Bust!” time. It should be noted that the argument over placing the word “gay” in the name of the association had raged for a month before the election and for two months following at every bylaws ratification meeting.
Founding membership was held open on December 1, 1981 and hit 94 founding members. Thereafter, membership continued to climb. Surprisingly, no one in this new Colorado rodeo group even owned a horse!
The next ten months were frantic and filled with enthusiasm. When August of 1982 rolled around, 270 CGRA members and over 150 supporters wearing shirts emblazoned with the slogan “Colorado Rides With Pride” arrived for the Reno National Gay Rodeo! This time they even had horses! The entourage included the first mounted gay drill team, the Mile High Square Dancers, the Denver Country Cloggers, candidates for the Mr., Ms., and Miss titles, and 43 rodeo contestants, which comprised two-thirds of the contestants for that rodeo.
Colorado contestants quickly learned that the rules of the rodeo arena changed from one minute to the next and learned from other returning contestants that this had been true in the past. The contestants voiced for uniform rules in order to improve the quality of rodeo and desired more rodeos in which they could hone their skills.
And why not? A new challenge! Start another rodeo! Colorado returned home and talked rodeo. Practicality clearly indicated Colorado had not raised the amount of money that Texas had and additionally, Texas had a huge population base and an emerging political climate that Colorado could not match.