Interview with Lorry King

Denver, Colorado on November 20, 2016 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield and I'm here with Lorry King. It's November 20th, 2016 and we're at the International Gay Rodeo Association Annual Convention. So can you tell me about where you grew up?
[00:00:00]
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Lorry King: I was born in Hawaii but I grew up in Southern California.
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RS: Can I ask when you were born?
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LK: 1948
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RS: And did you live on a ranch or in town?
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LK: I grew up in the city in Los Angeles but my family has a ranch to this day in the central part of California. And because my parents were divorced and I lived with my mom, she, during the summers, you know, she worked, and had to do something with us. And so she sent my brother and I to her cousin’s ranch. So I spent every summer from the ages of five to fifteen on her ranch. And so I had my own horse there. And my cousins, I have cousins there who are older than me who were in rodeo. Girls—so they were barrel racing only. But I you know learned to milk cows and cause it was a dairy farm too and take care of the horses and all that stuff.
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RS: And when you would go out there for the summers I mean did you go until you were 18?
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LK: I went regularly every summer from five to fifteen and then after that it was just from time to time.
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RS: And did you do any equestrian events or barrel racing yourself at the high school?
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LK: No, I didn't. I was just there in the summers. So I would attend the state, the county fair was always held in that city so I always attended. Or this close by town, she lived out in the country, so I would attend the local that rodeo every year. Like I said, my cousins, my girl cousins, were barrel racers so I learned from them and attended things that they were in. But I never competed myself.
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RS: Were you interested in competing?
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LK: I probably would have been if there was something available to me but it just never came up while I was there.
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RS: And what did you do after high school?
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LK: I went to college and I got a degree in Mexican American studies with a minor in Spanish. I lived in Mexico for a while. I became a Vista Volunteer which is like the domestic Peace Corp. I worked on the border and then I joined, I started working with the federal government as a social worker in a program for the disabled and elderly.
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RS: And where do you live now?
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LK: Now I live in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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RS: So how do you identify as far as sexuality?
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LK: Heterosexual.
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RS: And are you married?
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LK: I'm married. Forty years.
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RS: Wow. How did you meet your spouse?
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LK: We lived in the same dorm in college.
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RS: Do you have children?
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LK: No
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RS: How did you become involved with gay rodeo?
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LK: I had, when I was working, I had a…my sort of best friend in the office was a gay man. And my husband was working nights and so, you know, I would go home to an empty house every night, not having children. And my friend said, “You know, there's this country western bar in town, would you be interested in learning dance, you know, country, line dance and country western couples dance?” And I said, “Oh, that sounds like fun. I'll go with you.” So we started going there one day a week and taking lessons, learning to dance, and we met people. We had a lot of fun. And then he said, “Did you know that there's a gay country western bar in town?” I said, “No, never knew that.” And he said, “Well, would you feel funny going to a gay bar?” And I said, “No, I'm going with you and I would be okay.” He said, “Because they give lessons on a different day of the week.” So we started going there and I realized there was some of the same people there from that other bar, some straight and some gay. And so we started going two nights a week.
[00:03:13]
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LK: And pretty soon he said, “Do you know there is such a thing of gay rodeo?” And he knew I knew about rodeo, and I said, “No, didn't know that either.” He said, “Well there's going to be one in LA the next weekend would you be interested in going.” So I said, “Okay sure that'd be fun.” So we went and it was so much fun and when I found out there was a charitable aspect that appealed to me and so, just sort of couple things happened at the same time. He and I started going to gay rodeos, and we felt like well we should volunteer, we shouldn't just go and sit in the stands, so we started doing that. And at the same time, one of the people I danced with at both of the bars, a gay man whose profession was a dance instructor, he had been competing in different kinds of competitions, but one of the parts of competition that he had been competing was gay rodeo dance. And the partner that he had been competition with decided she didn't want to do it anymore, so he had asked me to be his partner. So now I was competing at dances as well as volunteering.
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LK: And you know this as well as anybody, if you're a volunteer and you're have any responsibility, you know, you show up on time, you do your job, and, you know, are a good volunteer then you get asked to volunteer more. And then pretty soon you get asked to do more and more and, you know, next thing I knew it's like, “Well would you chair this committee? Would you do this?” So I sort of got sucked in, first to the Los Angeles chapter of the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association, which is California's member association. And then my dance partner and I started driving out to Palm Springs which was about a forty-five minute drive from where we lived—‘cause we lived east of LA—because they had a really good dance club on a different night of the week. So we would drive out there every Sunday night and we would dance. And we would see a lot of people who were members of the Los Angeles chapter of the Gay Rodeo Association but they started saying you know that's too far away and it doesn't really address our needs and we need to form a chapter out here in Palm Springs and so that happened. And I was one of the seven founding members of that chapter, it was called the Greater Palm Springs Chapter because it included two counties and so I became an officer of that board.
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LK: And then I retired and moved to Las Vegas and the assistant rodeo director in Las Vegas had heard from the president of the Palm Springs chapter they were friends and he said, “Oh one of our members is moving to Vegas you really need to snap her up ‘cause she does a good job.” And so I was approached, “Well would you join the Nevada Gay Rodeo Association?” And I said, “Sure, I always intended on doing that.” Anyways and so I did. And within a year or so I was on their board. So it’s just grown from there really. You know, being elected to different positions and appointed to different positions and working behind the scenes on rodeos, I've never competed, never really felt interested in competing, but production: being assistant rodeo director; being the dance chair; being the rodeo secretary; all that sort of stuff.
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RS: So how many years now have you been actively involved?
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LK: So I think it's probably eighteen-ish years.
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RS: So late 1990s.
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LK: Yeah.
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RS: Did your spouse ever get involved with you or was it pretty much just an interest of yours?
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LK: Yeah, he never really was that interested. He, strangely enough, was born in Texas. And you would think…but he was born in El Paso and raised in Dallas and he's just an urban guy and isn't interested in riding, isn't interested in rodeo at all. He came to the Palm Springs rodeo, finals rodeo, because the finals rodeo is put on by the Palm Springs chapter and I was a big part of that and he wanted to support me in that and then he came to the Laughlin finals rodeo because I was the Grand Marshall and he wanted to see me and take pictures and everything. And he came to all my dance competitions. Which was interesting because they were all held in gay bars and for a straight man that's a hard thing, especially this was in 2000 and 2001, and you know a lot of things have changed since then. But he has totally embraced a lot of friends that I've made and we've traveled with them, we go to each other’s homes and so, I mean he absolutely never had any kind of a problem with “gay,” so to speak. I grew up, one of my cousins, my barrel racing cousins, is a lesbian. And my family always supported her and her girlfriends and there was never any problems in our family about it. So I grew up not having any issues, you know, and then and my husband, although he grew up in a pretty conservative Texas family, for whatever reason none of that was imbued in him. Maybe because he went to school—college—in California you know, he really has never had any prejudices or any problems whatsoever. It just isn't something he is interested in.
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RS: Did you always feel welcomed as a straight woman?
[00:10:14]
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LK: I did, but, you know, to this day a lot of people don't even realize I'm straight. Just because they don't expect it. They don't—if someone is here, you kind of expect that they are gay, we aren't all. In our, in Nevada, for instance, we have quite a few contestants that are straight women. They came in through barrel racing which is a very “girl thing” sort of still. And as you heard in the convention, one of our new members of TGRA who brought a new event to us, she's a straight women and there's a couple of others in the audience and men as well. So, there aren't that many of us, but I think it's just you just kind of assume: it's a gay organization and so she must be gay. So along the line people get to know you and realize, “Oh you're straight? Oh I never knew that!” But no one has ever said, “Oh I never knew that,” and walked away from me, you know what I mean. There's never been…I never felt any prejudices whatsoever against me at all or any feeling that, “Oh well she doesn't understand.” Or, “She can't do the job.” Nothing like that, ever.
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RS: Do you think there's more straight women than straight men?
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LK: Yes, I do.
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RS: Why do you think that is?
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LK: I think because of the contestant base, the barrel racing brings in the straight women.
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RS: That's really interesting. As a straight person in a gay sports organization do you think you have a good or a different perspective on potential discrimination people face? Do you hear comments from other straight people out in the world that you kind of want to protect people from?
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LK: Yes, in fact I tend not to say…I don't broadcast to people. There are a lot of people who know I'm involved in rodeo, and when I just say It's a charitable rodeo organization and I don't say “gay” ‘cause I don't, even if it's someone I know doesn't really have any kind of a prejudices, I just don't want to get into it. I don't want have to explain myself. I don't want to have to…Recently, for instance, in the Las Vegas newspaper the South Point Hotel and Casino and Arena, which is where we've had finals the last two years, every week they have a column, an add, where they list all the upcoming events in their arena. And so of course World Gay Rodeo Finals is listed. And I take an exercise class three times a week and one of the ladies in the class, just chit-chatting, I didn't bring it up, she said, “Did you know notice in the South Point list that there's a gay rodeo coming to town.” And I said, “Yes, I did.” “Well, I wonder why they need their own rodeo?” And she wasn't saying anything bad, she just honestly said, “I wonder?” And I so I said, “Well I think it's because they're not welcome in the straight rodeo, the PRCA rodeo, or the straight rodeos. They don't feel welcome there and this is a place where they can feel safe and welcome.” And she said, “Well that makes sense.” And that was the end of the conversation. She was fine. And I had that same conversation almost word for word with some very very good friends. My oldest friend, we've been friends since we were eleven years old, she lived in San Diego. When I was in San Diego for the rodeo, I said, “Okay, well, after the rodeo let me…” I stopped by and spent the night and visited with her. And at dinner her husband said, “Okay explain to me why is there a gay rodeo?” Exact same conversation and again I explained it and they understood.
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RS: Do you think, do you think there's a perceptible shift in American culture in accepting gay people and gay lifestyles?
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LK: Absolutely. Absolutely, you know, when I grew up, there just…you just never…Well, for instance, the man that I was good friends with where I worked, when he came to work, he was not out and he and I tended to…we just happened to be where we had to work very closely together and became good friends. And so one day, he told me and he said, “Because I feel there wouldn't be any problem with you,” but he said, “Keep my secret. Don't tell anyone else in the office.” And this was in maybe, you know, ‘93 or ‘94 and he said, “You know, my last job I was open and I was treated horribly and I don't want that to happen again.” But by the time I retired from that job and he was still there, which was 2001, he was open and everyone in the office knew. And part of it might have been they had all gotten to know him. They knew him first as just a coworker and liked him and then they found out he was gay. If he had walked in gay, I don't know the difference. But the world has certainly changed. You know, it doesn't…you almost don't even see…even though there plenty of gay bars around, you see also bars that are not identified with plenty of gay people in it. A good friend of mine from Nevada, his company transferred him, he lives in northern California now in Santa Rosa, and I said to him, “Well have you found some gay bars in your area, places to go?” And he said, “You know what, there aren't any gay bars.” But he said, “Doesn't matter,” he said, “Any bar that I go to there's no problem. I see gay couples there and no one giving them any issues at all.” And the whole gay marriage, I mean that's just so monumental.
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RS: As a straight women in the early ‘90s not only being told by a close friend but also circulating in gay bars and seeing people what did it feel like to sort of have that responsibility? To have people secrets and make sure that you didn't accidentally bring harm to someone? What did that feel like to you then?
[00:16:12]
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LK: Hmm, I don't, I don't know, I mean I just I knew from the news and from reading things how badly people could be treated. So I was just something that I knew I would never betray.
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RS: Were you ever with someone when a homophobic attack happened or anything?
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LK: No.
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RS: And you said particularly dance brought you in. As IGRA has developed, it seems like the dance part has sort of drifted away do you think that makes it harder for people to join or…?
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LK: Well, it certainly excludes a group that we could get to join but I think part of it too is country western dance in the United States has declined. That whole urban cowboy movie thing really pumped it up. For instance the bar that I started going to was enormous and really really popular but even before or I guess about the time I moved away, it had changed. It wasn't even country anymore, ‘cause it didn't have the clientele anymore, and that was a straight bar. It's just, in general, in the United States there isn't as big an emphasis on country western dance or isn't as much interest in it as there used to be.
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RS: Why do you think that is?
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LK: I don't know. It was so sort of a fad, you know. And it's just like other things. Now, I think because of the shows on TV, ballroom dancing is kind of a fad. And maybe that'll go away, too.
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RS: So there was a proposal for a new dance event do you think that will that'll help try to bring in people who might still be members of those of those hardcore square dancing, clogging, line dancing groups and try to bring them back into the sphere of gay rodeo?
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LK: I hope so. I hope that and I think that's what the chair wants to do is use that not only as a great dance event but to use it as a platform to show… And, you know, I would hope that there would be some videos on the wall of the rodeo and plenty of information around and people wearing shirts that identify them. And I think it would be any IGRA member’s…it would be there job almost to not only be there to dance but also to talk about who's putting it on and, “You know you might be interested in coming to one of our rodeos,” and kind of doing some recruitment.
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RS: Was there a particular moment when you were at a rodeo or at a dance event where you were just like, “This is this is a place I want to be I want to invest, obviously a lot of your time in?” Do you have a particular moment you remember where it was just it just sort of clicked?
[00:19:52]
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LK: I think it was just early on when I heard of the charitable part of it. When I saw how much money was going out to various organizations and not just gay organizations, you know health organization and cancer organizations and women's groups, and Planned Parenthood and, you know, all kinds of things. That's what made me want to say okay, I wanted to give my time to something here's one that combines my interest in rodeo, my interest in dance, and my interest in charity. This is perfect and the fact that it happens to be gay doesn't really matter.
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RS: And what do you think that means for I mean these are people who at times have been rejected by communities and yet they just keep giving, what do you think that says about the people who are involved in gay rodeo?
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LK: It says a lot, about their heart.
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RS: Yeah. Have you gotten a lot of personal support from people in the community? How would you characterize your sort of the environment of gay rodeo?
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LK: Very definitely very welcoming. And, you know if I run for an office it's not like anyone ever says, “Oh well don't vote for her ‘cause she’s gay, I mean ‘cause she's straight ‘cause she can't represent us.” Never, never. I mean I think I've won every election I've run for. And actually I've been approached to do things that I didn't feel comfortable with. I've been approached to run for president and I keep telling them, I don't think that's appropriate for a straight person to be president of a gay organization. I've been approached to run for royalty. And the same thing I keep saying that's the face of the organization that's the PR arm and I don't think it's appropriate. So that tells me that that I'm welcomed.
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RS: Do you still dance?
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LK: I don't, I hurt my back and I can hardly do it anymore.
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RS: Do you try to at least have some of the fun at after parties as much as you can?
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LK: Yeah, I still, I mean, I don't drink and I don't smoke so I don't go to bars. And unfortunately in Las Vegas, it's not like in some other parts in the country, the bars you can still smoke, so I kind of I try to limit myself. But to a rodeo it's different. I always attend you know the events after the rodeo and the dances and the listening to the music and that sort of thing.
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RS: And some of the initial friends that you started going to the events with and getting involved with are they still involved?
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LK: Yes, yes, yeah. In fact, that friend of mine, the colleague from work, he is a certified official.
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RS: That's really fantastic. Um, is there anything you want to say that I didn't directly ask you about?
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LK: I don't think so.
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RS: Thank you so much for sharing your perspective I feel like you know it's a unique place to be in, and I'm sure everyone really appreciates your support.
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LK: Thank you.
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RS: Thank you.
[00:23:45]