Interview with Frank Harrell

Denver, CO on July 7, 2017 | Interviewer: Becca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: So, I'm gonna go ahead and introduce us, I'm Rebecca Scofield and today I am here talking with Frank Harrell about the International Gay Rodeo Association. And, really just doing an oral history, today is July 7th...
Frank Harrell: July 7th, 2017.
RS: And we're in Denver, Colorado.
FH: To be very precise we're at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Golden Colorado which is just slightly north of Denver.
RS: And tomorrow will be the Rocky Mountain...
FH: ...Regional Rodeo.
RS: Excellent. So, what year were you born?
FH: I was born [in] 1952, in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
RS: What was it like growing up?
FH: Small town boy, Rocky Mount at the time had about 25,000 population. Didn't really go very far, I had to walk to school... I don't remember a whole lot about that time in my life. I'm now 65 years old so it's, it's been a while...
: ...
RS: So what did your parents do for a living?
FH: My father was a professional portrait photographer, as well as his father. He had a small business, my grandfather, I don't know too much of the story about how he got started in it, but about 1920 he had a studio in Wilson, North Carolina, and for some reason he was in Rocky Mount for business, and the streets were just jammed with people. The next week he moved to the studio in Rocky Mount. Grandfather died in 1945 and dad took over the studio. In the late 1950s, [started to rain a little bit], in the late 1950s we went through a recession and his studio pretty much dried up and he had no income. I learned many years later that the entire year, and I'm not sure which one it was, the entire year his gross income was $15. He was living off his life savings, or we were living off his life savings. He had to do something, so he put out applications to every place he could think of. First one came through was with the Smithsonian Institution, as a photographer, so we moved to northern Virginia where he started working for them. That's where he worked for the last 20 years of his life. Lot of interesting stories and came from that, that's what dad did. ...
RS: And did you have siblings?
FH: Yeah, I have 4: 2 brothers and 2 sisters, I'm the oldest. [rain.] I came along and then my next sister came along 9 years later, and then they all came about a year apart, so essentially when I was growing up I was the person who took care of the family, cause mother was never around to do it, and dad was working. I hate kids [laughs]. I think anybody that's listening to this understands what I mean by that, I don't really hate kids, in no way do I have any of my own.
RS: You have a lot of experience with child care.
FH: Exactly, Exactly.
RS: How long were you in North Carolina?
FH: We left North Carolina when I was 11, so [when] I had my first 12th birthday we were already in Virginia. I lived in northern Virginia from then until 2010, when I my partner and I moved to Colorado.
RS: So was there a big change between culture at all between North Carolina and Virginia? Or landscape?
FH: Landscape [was a ] major change. We moved from a small, single-family, brick house to a duplex in the middle of Arlington. ... We lived there for about 2 years, and I found out later that both my parents realized I was an unhappy kid. So we ended up, they ended up, once dad got better on his feet, he purchased a new house in a suburban neighborhood. It was built '62, '63 right in that period, have to try and figure out the exact date. Went from basically being the middle of a metropolis to an area that had lots of trees and open space and woods all around and so I fell in love with the outdoors, and I enjoyed growing up in that area.
RS: What were some of the things you would do outside?
FH: Oh, I loved to build trails, we had lots of woods in the area and I would go out with my rake, and build a trail for people to walk on. One of which actually ended up, even after all the woods were torn down and houses were put in, still is there as a paved walkway, because the position of it was so perfect, goes in to a lot of wooded areas that, park areas its right next to those houses. That was my favorite thing, build trails. Go camping. We went camping a lot up in the Shenandoah National Park.
FH: And then in 1967 we took our first trip west. Dad piled the family into the car. Had the, let's see dad, mom, grandma, me, Sally, my sister and my latest brother Charlie--we were all in a used black Ford, middle of July, temperature 110 degrees crossing the prairies, no air conditioning. That was a hot car, black. And our first stop, I think we spent three days getting across the major part of the country and our first stop was in, just west of Denver at Echo Lake, elevation of 10,000 feet. I remember dad telling one story about that trip. Mother kept--she had never been west of North Carolina and dad was going as hard as he could travel, almost 2,000 miles across--and she kept saying, 'Slow down. Slow down. I wanna see the country." Until we got to the Mississippi river and it was on the interstate system was brand spankin new, it had only been opened a few months, and there was this sign across the top of the road that said Denver was 500 miles. Mother grew up in an area where the next town was 3 miles apart, and she never bothered to complain after that. The other thing was going on when we were leaving dad was shoving blankets in every nook and cranny in the back of the car he could find and mother couldn't understand why he was putting blankets in the car in the middle of July, well that night, up at Echo lake, we froze our bippies off. That was cold, it was. We spent 2 weeks out here, and that's when I fell in love with this area.
RS: And were you very much into cowboys, when you were young?
FH: ... I'm not quite sure exactly why the cowboy thing kinda came in. Course when I was growing up the big thing in the motion pictures and television was westerns. I remember Sky King and Cisco Kid, and I grew up with those TV shows, Roy Rogers, although for some reason I didn't like him as much as I liked the others, maybe because Sky King had an airplane, you ever heard of that show? So my generation was absorbed with cowboys and the West, from theater and television. I think that maybe one of the reasons that ... the rodeo is starting to fade is because... the group of people from my generation, they grew up on the cowboys. We're now getting old, and the kids and the younger people who are now at the point that they are the ones who are getting involved in the rodeo, they didn't grow up on the cowboy stuff, so they didn't have that kind of direct influence. Between seeing it in the TV and the movies and our trips out West, we did go to a couple dude ranches a couple years, I think that probably sealed my interest in cowboys. ...
RS: What was high school like?
FH: High school was kind of interesting. I've always been technically minded. And I've also been very shy, and it's very difficult for me to start, or make first contact, to somebody I don't know or some function. Always, dad was a, he was a professional photographer but his hobby was movies, 8 millimeter movies. He kept encouraging me to try to get involved in motion picture film stuff, and equipment that they had in high school. And finally one day I worked up the courage to go to the librarian and ask if I could get involved in working with the AV department. Well, probably about 3 weeks later I found myself of the president of the AV club for the high school. So I was very much involved in that equipment, and managing and taking care of it. ... As far as school itself, I was not a very good student. I did not like school. I've always had trouble with school and learning. I find it pretty easy to learn things if I'm working with it, but I don't learn well from reading books. ...
RS: When, you were in high school and immediately out of school, was there any sort of technical education about computing or computers?
FH: Computers in school was just beginning to start when I was a senior in high school, I think that when I was a junior, the school got its first terminal, which I now know was being connected to the ARPANET, which was brand new at the time. They had a, I don't remember what they called it, but it was a room that people would go into when they didn't have a class to attend. And they had this teletypewriter terminal set up in there, and there was a group of 4 or 5 that were big into that. It was way beyond my reach because they wouldn't even let you touch it unless you were a straight A student at that time, but we did have a connection to the ARPANET in my high school. I didn't start getting involved in computers as such until, about 1979 or '80, when radio shack came out with their second computer. I didn't get the first one, but the second one, which was called the radio shack color computer, was the first one available where you didn't have to buy the TV set along with it. So I got my first computer for, I think I paid about 300 dollars for it, and I could use my own television because at that time I couldn't afford the one that came with the TV. And I learned basic, fooling around with that computer, but I didn't really learn it too terribly well, because the only storage method that it had was a cassette player, or recorder that you would try to store your program on. Half the time it didn't work. So when I tried reloading the program it didn't load, so I had to type the whole program again. ... Jumping forward a few years, in '96, 1996, I was a volunteer in Manassas National Battlefield Park, which was the first major land battle of the American Civil War in northern Virginia. The park was only 11 miles from where I lived, so it was a convenient place to be volunteering at. ...I had been there for a few years, doing this, and one day I brought in our Notebook computer to show them this new thing we got hooked up to at home called the internet. And I was showing them how websites worked and stuff like that, and I typed in which is the National Park, and to my surprise the page popped up. I found out later that the site had only been online for 2 days, so it was very coincidental that it happened at that time. ... So I emailed the webmaster and said, 'This is fantastic but you need more information up here.' I'm a volunteer at one of the parks, so he wrote back and asked, 'How would you like to get your park online?' That's when learned I had to learn something called HTML, which I hadn't heard of before. I went down to the local computer store and asked them, 'What do you have in that?' [They] said, 'Well, everything we got is over here in the book department.' Because at the time there were no programs to create web pages, you typed it in manually. ... I still write raw code, I do not use wysiwyg programs at all. So I started putting together a page for the park, and it took me about 3 months before I got something that the superintendent liked, and it got posted.
FH: ... In '96 there was an article, not an article, an advertisement for a magazine called Roundup. I looked at that and here was an advertisement for gay rodeo. Well we had already scheduled some vacations and I wasn't able to make the gay rodeo that was occurring in Washington D.C. that year, but we did make the one in Denver. So 1996 Denver rodeo was our first gay rodeo. So we came to that one and continued going to every one we could get to, especially since there was one in our backyard in Washington D.C. ... I think it was in 2000 got me involved, I became one of the stable volunteers. But when I got there with my camera, also the first year I had a digital SLR, [a good friend Terry] didn't put me to work in the stable. He said, 'You go around shooting pictures.' So rather than simply being able to take pictures from behind the stands, I got to go behind the scenes and take pictures everywhere. Boy did I shoot a lot of pictures that year and those pictures went on my website. After, I guess it was another year; Terry made the proper connection, because I've always been shy about trying to make an initial contact, I wanted to do a website for a gay rodeo. He made the connection and I went to see the guy who had been doing the website and he basically turned it over to me. So that's when I created the Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association website as it is still there right now, as of this year. In 2006, I went to, well I had actually gone to several of the IGRA conventions at this point, in 2006 Brian Helander was elected as president. And, again, I was shaking like a leaf because I was scared making this first contact, after convention I went up to him and said to him I'd like to do the website. I told him my ASGRA website had won the award the previous year. He said come see me when I get into office. That's when I became webmaster for IGRA. In between then and now I have also been webmaster for several other associations, most of which are no longer in operation. I really like the rodeos, I like disseminating information, I love teaching, and by building a website like this, it's a good way to teach people not only what gay rodeo is about, but to get the information out there, I get so frustrated with websites that don't have the stuff you're trying to find on it. So I'm always trying to add anything that I think will be useful to people.
: ...
RS: Now, did you know when you were a kid that you were gay?
FH: Not really. [...] When I was about, I think I was about 12 or 13, my dad gave me the talk, about the birds and the bees, and part of that talk he, without actually saying it, he visual gave me the clue of looking at my private parts and my face and back and forth, if i was ever out on the street and any man would come along and asked to you know, I needed to stay away from him because he was mentally ill and I could catch it. [...] I had no clue at the time that I was gay [...] but that kinda threw me into the bowels of the closet. One day [...] I grabbed a couple of copies of, that had been thrown in there, of the Advocate, which is a gay newspaper which is still in operation, by the time I finished reading that I had come to the conclusion that yes I am gay. But I was still 100% in the closet because I was scared to death, cause even at that time, if you were discovered to be gay you could be imprisoned, you could be sent to correctional facilities, so I didn't tell anybody. Wasn't until after my father died in 1983 that I actually began to come out. And oddly enough I ended up having to move apartments, [...] so I put an ad in the Advocate for a roommate, which took care of the financial problems, but I also got a telephone call from this guy from the name of Tom. He didn't want a roommate but we got together, and after about 2 or 3 weeks, we became very much attracted to each other, and after about a month or so, I realized that I was falling in love. So we have been together ever since, we actually moved in together about a year after that, and have been living together, been 34 years, it will be 34 years next week.
RS: And was Tom out at the time?
FH: Tom was not out, he was in the army. This was even before don't ask don't tell, so you did not come out in the army. After a few months of us being together, Tom had reached the point of possible retirement, and I convinced him, you got to get out, because if anybody, we were both pretty sure that a lot of the people realized he was gay, but if anybody had decided to push the issue, he would have been out and completely lost all his retirement, 20 years' worth of work. Cause that's the way things were then, it was easy to get kicked out of the military if you were gay. All someone had to do is point at you and say you're gay, and you're gone, and you lose everything, so he retired. Few weeks later he went to work for a private contractor pretty much doing the same thing we was doing in the army. He worked for that company about 23 years before he finally retired from that, so we're pretty well set.
RS: And you were still in Virginia?
FH: Yeah, we were still in Virginia at this time, it was a number of years after that, I lost track of a lot of the dates, I'm not good at that, I have to sit down and calculate when exactly it was, but he was retired for about 3 years before we moved out here, that would have been about 2008 or 9, somewhere right in there.
RS: And during the 1980s when you're sort of coming out and finding a partner and moving in together, what was it like living in Virginia at that time?
FH: In reference to being gay?
RS: Mmhmm
FH: Okay, I didn't talk too much about it, the people that I worked with at the time, before the park, I don't know if they had any clue I was gay or not, but it wasn't discussed, so it was basically I was in the closet. During that period, when I actually, I guess you could say, came out of the closest, in a permanent and major aspect, was...Let me start the story at this point: In 1991, I found out I had full blown AIDS. The doctors gave me 6 months to live, I'm still here. At that time that was the normal life expectancy for someone who was in my condition, I managed to make it through; thankfully the drugs, the protease inhibitor drugs came out just in time to save me. However when I started volunteering at Manassas battlefield after I had been there for maybe 6 or 8 months, some lady came in, she wasn't an employee of the park, she was somebody that came in with a special purpose, she came in with the flu, which I caught, I was in bed, close to dying, for about a month, it really hit me hard. I didn't feel it was right for my boss ladies not to understand what my situation was, and that I could be gone at any moment. So when I had recovered enough so that I could move around, I went in and said we got to talk, and that was probably the most difficult talk I think I've ever had. They were very accepting, they had no problems with it, which made everything easy, and from that point on, I didn't blurt out about being gay or all that stuff, but they knew that Tom was my partner and they knew I went to gay rodeos and the whole kit and caboodle, to use an old fashioned term. But they had no problems with it at all, so that made my life much easier. One short little clip that I think is probably the funniest thing that I had happen when I was at the park. My office was just off the reception area for the headquarters building, and the assistant superintendent lady was out in the reception area talking to the other people about putting together the Christmas party, and she made the comment fruit, we gotta get some fruit, that triggered my mind, I jumped out of the office and said, "I'm here." She turned beat red, and everyone else couldn't stop laughing, that's probably the most blatant thing that I ever did like that. But over the years I have become more and more open, and especially the last 4 or 5 years, things have become much more relaxed about gay people, so I've become more and more relaxed in my presentation and my being out in the world. I never had the "coming out experience" that is talked about so much today cause I just sort of, seeped out over a period of many years. It didn't happen that way to me, and it wasn't something that I had to sit down with the people and say, "I'm gay." It didn't happen that way, everybody pretty well understood it.
RS: And when did you and Tom start traveling again?
FH: We've actually been traveling ever since 1988. We bought our first travel trailer which was in 1988, and we did some camping. And, in '89, we Tom took a 2 year sabbatical from his job. We sold the houses that we had, and we lived in our travel trailer for 2 years. The only reason we quit, well 2 reasons to quit, 1 is because at that time, if you sold property you had to put the money back into property in 2 years or else you lose huge to taxes. I don't think that is a problem anymore. The other one was we saw all of the great scenes, all the great, one of our goals during that trip was to visit as many of the national parks as we could get to. All together we've been to about 300 national parks. When you go to the Grand Canyon and look over the edge and say, oh that's nice, you have reached the point of where you're saturated. And that's when we said, okay let's cut this out and go back to work for a while, but we have continued to go on short trips since then. The longest trip we've had since that is 6 months, and that was just before leaving Northern Virginia and coming to Colorado.
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RS: Was your volunteer position [at Manasses] full time, part time?
FH: Well, it was supposed to be just come in occasionally, but before it ended, in the slightly more than 6 years I was there I put in more than 6,000 hours' worth of time, I don't generally make too big a deal of it, but Tom likes to. When I was probably at about 4,500 hours, the superintendent wanted to do something nice for me, I didn't know what was going on, I didn't find out about it until the presentation actually occurred, but he managed to get me, I'm an official honorary National Park ranger, that's the highest award the National Park Service can give. At the time, I got that because of the work I had done not only on the website but on all the computer support I had given them, at the time that I got the award there had only been 160 maybe 120 people who had received it, such people as John F. Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Queen Elizabeth, Arthur Fiedler, people like that. I honestly believe there has been a lot more of these given out since then, but I think I was the first non-famous person to ever receive the award, which I'm kinda glad of, that was the biggest thing what came out of that operation. I didn't know they were gonna give it to me, and they told me to come over to the other building, and Tom was there, and the head of the National Park Service was there to give me my award, so it was kinda a surprise. It kinda funny too, I have, they gave me as part of the operation one of the park hats, so it's a Stetson made out of, high quality beaver felt, beaver and rabbit felt, it doesn't fit me, it's too big for my head. They didn't know what my hat size was so while I was out of the office one of the ladies went into my office and I had left my hat in the office, and they picked it up and they got the measurement for that, trouble was that day I had grabbed the wrong hat the hat was too big for me, so the park service hat doesn't fit very well, but it hangs in my study today.
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RS: [In your] unique position as webmaster, you're sort of helping get a lot of this information out there, have you had any sort of digital connections with people who were upset about gay rodeo?
FH: Not the rodeo. My website, has been in operation since before I got involved with the gay rodeos. In all that time I have received 2 nasty emails, out of the tens of thousands of emails that I've gotten, I've only gotten 2 nasty ones. One of them, I actually wrote a little piece on--which is on the website. He was complaining about me being a, "how dare you call yourself a gay cowboy" and "cowboys don't carry pride flags, they carry guns," etc., etc. just ranting on. Basically my little blog, if you wanna call it that although when I wrote it the term didn't exist, pointed out that the places where he was wrong: There are a lot of gay cowboys; there always have been; at the time I actually owned a gun--I never used it, I just simply owned it, cause it was a colt 45, I used it a few times during Halloween, not firing but in the holster. There was an interesting response after I had posted this thing. A real cowboy wrote me. He said he wasn't gay but he had lots of gay cowboy friends, and he actually made me feel very good, 'cause he ended his little speech with something like, "You may not be a real cowboy, but you certainly act it." That's not what he actually said, what he said was much better than that [...] but it made me feel very warm inside. The other negative email I got I deleted immediately so I don't even, I didn't even finish reading it. So I don't remember what it's about. But that's all, I've not gotten anything negative, the emails that I've gotten that you might consider to be partially negative, weren't really, they said, they don't agree with the lifestyle, they used that term, but they didn't complain either. Several of them asked specific questions, not about gay but about cowboys. Several of the others just simply said good luck to you. So I've received almost no hate mail at all, which I don't know if that had anything to do with the timing or the way that my website is put together, hard to tell.
RS: And what do you think it was about the gay rodeos that sort of kept you coming back.
FH: The comradery, if I'm pronouncing that correctly. We're one big happy family. I had been to, not to a whole lot, but a few straight rodeos, they are nothing like ours as far as friendship is concerned. All of the straight rodeos that I have either been involved in or watched either on the TV or YouTube, that is a massive competition against the other guy. There is no way that a straight rodeo cowboy will actually advise, another contestant as to methods of improving because they might beat me. 100% different in the gay rodeo. One of our contestants who passed away from ovarian cancer a few years ago, I think put it very well. Ty Tygen said, I want you to do good, I will loan you my horses I will loan you my equipment, I will tell you how to do better, so that you can go out there and do the best you can and then I'm gonna go out and beat you. That's the feeling between most of us. We would rather see the other guy do a good job than for us to beat them, cause we're all trying, this is a serious competition. That is one of the things that I don't see in hardly any other sporting event, of any sort, is that kind of family. We love going to the rodeos because we see our friends that we haven't seen in a while.
FH: I first, I first got interested in coming to the rodeos because it was a fun event to come to, and at least in the earlier days, you don't see it quite as much now, the eye candy is terrific especially in the stands, Florida, when they were going, they had some of the most hunky shirtless guys they could find, cause their rodeo was held just outside fort Lauderdale, and Fort Lauderdale is a big muscle beach area, so the muscle boys would come out and it was wonderful eye candy, some of the others were too. So that was a good draw. When we were running the Atlantic States [Gay Rodeo] out of Washington D.C. when our rodeos we're going, we were famous for our parties, we would have an average of around, between 2 to 4 thousand people, half of which would go to the rodeo, some would go to both the rodeo and the party, but then you had a lot of people that just went to the party and half the people that just wanted to rodeo. And our dances were, incredible, you'd get 300 people on the floor all doing the line dance, nothing quite as exciting as watching something like that or I'm not sure what you would call it cause I don't dance, but where 2 people holding onto each other spinning in circles around the floor, 250 people all out in a big pile, doing this trying not to run into each other and still having a great deal of fun. Used to be in some of the earlier, Atlantic States rodeos when I first began to go the parties when I got involved with the association, everybody wore their best outfits, they would go out and buy new outfits, it was like going to a black tie party, just gorgeous outfits, both ladies and the guys. And you'd find the ladies dancing with the guys and vice versa. That is really what it, other than just simply going to the rodeo and enjoy the cowboys riding their horses, cause I love these little cowboys on horses, seeing the people and seeing how they interact, in a big family environment, which you don't find, hardly any kind of other organization, I'm sure there are other types of events out there that have that kind of connection, but I've never seen any. That's the reason I keep coming. And now, I have reached the point, I would love to, I'm not gonna compete anymore, I'm past that capability, but I would love to like, be a rodeo judge but then I think so many people are relying on my photography now they would hate me if I didn't shoot pictures instead, and I enjoy shooting the pictures so I stick with that, I and I think I do a fairly good job of it.
RS: And what did you used to compete in?
FH: I started out, once I hit net, my friends in Virginia, I started out barrel racing, I spent about a year and a half learning to barrel race under the, tutelage of a very good barrel racing instructor. I admit I've never been very good at it. But after the year and a half I finally, tried competing at it, my partner Tom did not want me to compete because he was afraid I was gonna get hurt, the one time I tried competing in barrel racing I got hurt, so that put an end of that. I didn't make a score, this was in Washington DC, and I didn't have enough practice with the horse I was riding, and when he went around the first barrel he decided he wanted to leave, and I was so tight and worried I let him. Second day I said I'm not gonna let him do that, so we went around the first barrel and he started to go that way and I started pulling him back and got him pointed back, I got him pointed towards the second barrel and two things happened, I lost my left stirrup, and the arena crew was standing right smack in front of me. They were against the fence, but where I was headed I don't have proper control of my horse, and I was headed for them, so I lost it, and the horse turned and went out, and in the process of going out, I'm not sure exactly what I did wrong, but he ended up running into the fence, this was an 8 foot chain link fence, the whole fence fell down on its side, and because of the way it was constructed it pushed us back up, and I came off and landed on the dirt, and he wandered off and started grazing on grass. But it wasn't a serious injury just pulled a muscle in my arm, but that was enough of that, so that ended my barrel racing. After that I took a few lessons and I competed in what we call calf roping on foot. Which is a fairly simple little event where you throw the rope, I've got a couple ribbons, a couple of, 4th place ribbons. Actually the first place I caught was in Chicago, which was actually the first time I was actually doing competition, I caught on Sunday, and I was so surprised at the fact that I actually got it, I forgot to let go of the rope, which got pulled out of my hand, and because I forgot to let go of the rope I ended up in 4th place instead of 1st place, you're only talking about 2 tenths of a second that was enough to throw me out of winning 1st place for Sunday, but I got my 2 ribbons and that made me happy and now my arthritis is to the point that I can't hold, I can't control the rope anymore, so I just do the back behind the scenes stuff.
RS: And when you were barrel racing, did you ever own a horse or did you?
FH: I've never actually owned a horse, thought about it a couple times and decided horses require a lot of maintenance and they're very expensive to take care of, and I didn't have the proper property to take care of them, and I decided if I ever gonna own a horse I wouldn't be boarding somewhere where I would only see it once a week or something like that, so we just, we would have to live in a place where we could have the horse there, some of the other people who lived in the area did have horses, at least they had them when their children were growing up, but our property wasn't conducive to it, but I was content to ride other people's horses and as long as they were content to let me it was fine. Terry, the guy I was talking about that got me involved in the rodeo, he had, and still has a farm up in the mountains of Virginia. And when I went out there to ride the first few times, I guess probably about the 3rd ride when we finished it, I asked him if he would teach me how to tack up the horse, which apparently floored him because he had taken hundreds of people for rides, but nobody ever asked how to do it, so we became very good friends, and after I had been taking lessons for quite a while he got to where I knew what I was doing on a horse, he basically said you can come up any time you want even if we're not here and take the horses on a ride. So I did that probably about 7 or 8 times before we ended up moving out of the area. I just absolutely love horses, they are extremely intelligent, I believe that most animals, at least the higher animals, are just as intelligent as we are, what we have that they lack, is our incredibly complex language. I point to one of the horses that I used to ride, poor Sam, I'm sure that he's long gone now, but this horse was smart, he figured out, a lot of horses will figure out how to open their stall gates. I don't know what you call it but they have these little, things on the end of cords and stuff that you have to pull the little leaver down in order to slide the little thing so you can get it off, he figured how to open those, and he would let the other horses out of the stalls. Terry ended up putting padlocks on the stalls cause Sam kept letting them out and everything else. If you look at our civilization, this is totally off on a separate subject, but when you look at civilization, ask people what makes us better than the other animals, and the first thing most people point it is our opposable thumbs, and I look at them and say well why isn't the raccoon, there are lots of animals that have opposing thumbs, there are other animals that have bigger brains than we do, it's our language, I've got a little blog on my website that says, horses in nature have about 160 words in their language, its mostly visual clues. Most of those are involved in, day to day living, like I'm hungry, or I'm scared, or help me, something like that, or get away, leave me alone. Our civilization couldn't exist if we only had 160 words to work with. That's what makes the difference between us and the other animals, is our ability to communicate in extremely complicated fashion, and get the technologies and everything we have and everything we do is built on what previous people have discovered and we keep discovering, without our language that wouldn't be possible, that's the difference.
RS: What do you say to the, I knows there's been groups like PETA, that have protested rodeo as cruel to animals?
FH: Most of the time, I have seen a few PETA... what's it called when they're standing out there? Protesting. Usually they're not there the next day, the biggest problem seems to be that the people who actually go out representing these organizations, they don't really know what they're protesting, none of them have bothered to go look, they're just simply taking the word of somebody else, we have very little trouble with those organizations now cause I think they have finally realized we treat our animals very well. There is still a lot of anti-rodeo stuff out there, and anti-gay rodeo stuff out there, primarily from people who haven't bothered to research what they're protesting. Anytime they actually sit down and take the time to take a look at it, they realize they aren't protesting anything that's real. We used to get those protests quite a bit back in the 1990's, almost nowhere now, I think that's the reason is because we, all the IGRA rodeos have to follow the IGRA rules, and we have a large number of rules that are geared specifically for ethical treatment of the animals. I think, occasionally we do have accidents, that happens out in the field, occasionally a cow will break a leg because they step into a gopher hole. We have had a few animals get killed and any time that happens, the stuff hits the fan at the next convention trying to figure out what happened, and how to keep it from happening again. I don't think we've had a single incident that was caused because of a repeat of something that's happened before, it's always something new.
RS: And can you describe some of the duties you now have, the photographs you take and things like that and your main form of involvement with IGRA?
FH: Well besides being the webmaster for the international association, which means that I have to keep up with everything that's going on and keep the website updated, and design the website from scratch which I did a few years ago. The non-official, basically I'm the unofficial, unofficial or non-official, I'm not sure which one's proper, photographer for the gay rodeos. In whatever year it was that Brokeback Mountain won the academy award, that was kinda an interesting period for me, between the time that the awards were announced and the time they were actually presented, I received several hundred telephone calls from news media all around the world wanting to know about gay rodeo, because my phone number was the only one on the website. It was there because if an emergency problem came up I had it there so that people could call me and tell me that there was something that needed to be fixed, but mine was the only number there so I was the one getting all these phone calls. After about a month I managed to talk the president into letting me put his number on there and that quit, but when these people found out that I had this huge collection of photographs that I'd been shooting for 15 years, they all wanted me to pick pictures out that they could use in their, whatever their TV show or magazine or newspaper or whatever it was and sell them. I had about 30,000 pictures at that time, trying to go through those and pick good ones, was a nightmare. So what I did is I developed a little private website, call it a private website, where I took every single picture, that I've ever shot at a gay rodeo, run it through a little program that generates a gallery, and all I have to do is point people to the gallery, take whatever you want just give me credit. So you will see my pictures pop up all over the place, and that's where they're coming from. Newspaper can go to that website, not only see a gallery of the picture I've got, but they can get the original camera image from that location to, all the instructions are right there it's pretty straight forward. So that really, creating that really kinda changed people's outlook on what I can do, or what I have made available. And now in the last few years I've started doing videos and putting them on YouTube, I think the contestants really like that because I've had so many compliments and comments that they like that cause they can go and study what they did wrong and try to improve on it. You can't really see what you did wrong from a still picture, unless you fell or something like that, but the video. We had one fella I felt so bad for him, I'm not gonna say who it was, one of the rodeos when he went around the first barrel he did something wrong and I'm not gonna say what that was either, but I took the video and slow it way down so he could see what he did wrong. The horse ended up flipping head over heels, luckily neither one of them were injured except in the mind. But he was able to figure out what he did wrong, and keep from doing it again and that would have been impossible otherwise, cause when you're on the back of the horse, unless you're really really really good at what you're doing, most of the time you don't know what you did wrong.
RS: And you've also acted, sort of in your capacity as webmaster, also as sort of archival role of creating the history website.
FH: Yeah, that was kinda an interesting situation in itself. Back when I first started doing the website for Atlantic States, one of the first things I tried to do and it took my several years to accomplish it was to get copies of all there previous programs onto the website. I have dreamed of being able to do the something for all the gay rodeos, but at that time I lived in Virginia, and the archives, I had no idea what the archives consisted of at the time, was in Colorado, so I didn't have the opportunity of being connected with it, all a sudden I live in Colorado. And that same year, the position of the IGRA archivist changed to another particular person which incredibly is back with it right now as we speak, Brian Rodgers. He learned about our house, where it was located and we got this big cellar, and at that time the archives were being stored in the basement of Charlie's bar, or some of it was in the basement of Charlie's bar which flooded, and some of it was at the rodeo grounds in a storage container, which could be a 150 degrees in the summertime, and below 0, not to mention the dirt and dust from the rodeo equipment that was there, not a good place. So Brian convinced Tom and myself to, at least temporarily store the archives in our basement, whoa all the stuff I wanted to work with for all these years right here in the house. So that's how that came in to being the website. It continues to grow. I'm actually a little frustrated with it at the moment because I need help and I can't get any, the further development is kinda in limbo at the moment, because I already... catalogued and posted a lot of material that is currently sitting on a table waiting to be sorted and stored. And it has to be inventoried as its being stored and I can't do it myself. I have a problem with dyslexia, and looking at a computer trying to put information in, and then go over here and handle the physical product I get mixed up. It's too much, it's too hard for me to do both those jobs, and I can't get anybody at the moment to come out and help me, and I keep hoping and keep promising and so far nothings happened.
RS: And that's a, not a small amount of things its tens of thousands of items.
FH: No, its not. This year the San Francisco rodeo, I keep calling it the San Francisco because that's the nearest large town, will be our 500th gay rodeo, so we don't have all 500 programs but we've got about 480 of them. The archives have now grown with hundreds of pamphlets, newspaper articles, magazine articles, we even have clothing, T-shirts, jackets, hundreds and hundreds of contestant past badges, pass badges, pins. Since I've started creating the gay rodeo history website, the amount of material that was in the archives when I took them over has quadrupled, it is a huge project, not as big as a library but it's still huge and it's one person trying to do the whole thing, it's too much, so kinda takes away, you lose interest after a while and it's hard to... get going when you can't get anybody to help you out, I'm hoping that's gonna change.
RS: Now for you, why is it, why has it been worse, hundreds of thousands of man hours to do this, what do you hope preserving this history will create?
FH: I think it all comes back to education. I very much...I like collections, I like collecting things. My current major collection is computers, but I also like teaching, and building a website, an informative website is one way that I can teach a lot of people without going to a whole lot of effort, compared to what it would be if I had to have classes. In a classes you can teach 15, 20, or 30 at a time. A website can teach thousands of people, with one effort. So I really enjoy making this information available to the public. I also get pride in, I see so many newspaper articles, there was one in the Washington Post a couple days ago, and... stories and other things that are coming out of the information that I have on the history website, a lot of times I can read a newspaper article or magazine article and I can see what is almost a quote of some of the stuff that is on the website. So it's a way of educating the world about what we do, why we're here, what we're trying to do, it's a way without having to go out and contact individual people to do it, so it's a different way of teaching. And I love it. I love helping people and I love teaching people so this is one way I can do that.
RS: Now you touched on this earlier when you were saying that this younger generation didn't grow up with cowboys, obviously there's been a sort of decline in membership, what do you think the future of IGRA is?
FH: I think that in the future, I think that gay rodeo will be around for a long time, because there is enough core members who, who have this lifestyle as part of their life, they're dedicated. Looking at google earth this morning at one of our competitors homes, the whole thing is geared around rodeo, you just look at it from the sky and see there's nothing there except a house with rodeo, so there's enough of us around that gay rodeo will continue for quite a few years, there's no one reason why we're fading, there's a whole slew of reasons and they're all coming together at the same time. One of them is that the core people who created the gay rodeo grew up in the 1950s or 60s when cowboy TV shows and cowboy movies were all the rage, so we grew up cowboy. The current generation didn't grow up cowboy. So that's one thing, the people are losing the interest. 15 years ago, country western dancing was all the rage. Well a lot of those people have gone onto, either aged and gotten to where they can't dance, or facilities for the dancing has faded or they just got tired. And new dance styles come in to replace that. When gay rodeo first started especially the Reno rodeos of the 1970s at that time there was really no place that a large number of gays could get together to be in a public facility to be completely open, they just didn't exist. The best you could do would be to visit a bar or possibly be involved in something like a... gay pride parade. [*Man comes into room and interrupts*] So the dancing has moved away, the cowboy being, the movies have gone away. We have begun gay people have become more accepted in, I was saying that there was no place to go in a large group but the gay rodeos allowed that so it was a congregation. Now you can walk down just about any street holding hands with a same sex partner, the most you might do is raise a couple eyebrows, back in the 70's that wouldn't happen you couldn't do that, so we're more accepted, we don't have to congregate the way we used to. There's a whole slew of reasons we're fading. Another reason which, I believe is poor management. When gay rodeo started people and most of the individual associations got started even the one that just began, the people in the base of the association were go-doers. They were the kind of person who could go out, and find people and convince them this is what we need to do and get the other person excited about doing it. Over the years since I first started doing websites, I have worked with, a large number of nonprofits, and I've seen the same thing happen in a lot of those associations. When an association gets started you've got go-doers and go-getters, people who are excited about whatever the project is, they sometimes get burned out or they serve their term, and other people come in and eventually in a nonprofit, unless it's really well structured, you end up with people in charge, who aren't that interested in perpetuating the purpose of the organization, they're more interested in having the power and the prestige of being the president or, being on the board with the association, and as a result the association falls apart. This is different than a lot of businesses where you've got a profit margin you have to deal with and you've got, investors that you've got to please, although I've seen the same thing happen in some businesses. But I've seen more associations fall apart because of management that doesn't have the get-go or go-getters whatever the proper phrase is there, and the association just kind of flounders and eventually dissolves away. So, all of these things together, is why we're seeing, I think, why we're seeing gay rodeo fade. Something will probably take over in its place at some point, not as far as rodeo is concerned but some other type of event and after a period of time that event will suffer the same I think it's part of human nature part of the operation of the way things happen so it's not any given thing it's a lot of different things.
RS: For yourself your involvement in rodeo for 20 years now all of your the fact you've worn a cowboy hat most of your life, do you really identify as a cowboy?
FH: I think I do in a way. I appreciate what the real cowboys do, and there are still a lot of them out there, as one song that I like, cowboys still there, he just can't be seen from the road. I think being a cowboy is, more than just simply working cattle or horses. It's a, way of looking at life, and I try to uphold that as much as I can. I try to help the other person and I try to take care of what we have to take care of, our horses our facilities our organization. Anything you can do that is positive towards that, that's my feeling.
RS: Well we've talked about a lot today, is there anything else you want to mention?
FH: To be very honest with you I had been thinking about this for several weeks and I think I've covered all the little interesting tidbits that I thought were important to fit in.
RS: Well thank you so much for your time.