Interview with Lisa Smith

Austin, Texas on November 20, 2016 | Interviewer: Rebecca Scofield

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Rebecca Scofield: This is Rebecca Scofield, and I'm here today with Lisa Smith. And we're at the 2016 Annual Convention of the International Gay Rodeo Association. You said you were a veteran?
Lisa Smith: Of twenty-four years, with the army.
RS: When did you join up?
LS: For the gay rodeo?
RS: For the army.
LS: Oh, back in 1977. Now I'm dated.
RS: And what all did you do during your long career?
LS: Oh, well, I was in communications and also had a stint with the aviation, and the operations part of it, and also got involved with chemical warfare and I retired out as a First Sargent.
RS: How did you find out about the gay rodeo?
LS: We had friends that were members. In fact, the night of my holy union—course back then you couldn't get, or thirteen, fourteen years ago you couldn't get married—we joined up that night. I don't know why that night, I guess cause everybody there were friends there that belonged to it.
RS: Did you grow up on a ranch or…?
LS: No, I'm a city person.
RS: Where did you grow up?
LS: Little Rock, Arkansas. So I didn't really have an experience with cattle or horses or bulls or any of that such thing. The closest I got was to a state fair one year. And otherwise I was more of a PE jock. I was the jock, I played a lot of sports and things like that…And I wasn't in the cowboy western way either. I grew up in the 70s, and 60s and 70s music so.
RS: So awesome, awesome music.
LS: Yeah, you bet.
RS: And how did you meet your partner?
LS: Well, we met through the military. She comes to Arkansas, back in the early 80s and I met her then, and you know we worked in the training area and it wasn't ‘til I don't know fifteen years after that something turned my head and decided hey, you know.
RS: So you were both retired by the time?
LS: Were both retired. She retired out with thirty years, and we've been volunteering for IGRA since then, pretty actively.
RS: What all have you done with IGRA?
LS: Well we've both started out as security at our rodeo, ticket takers, selling raffles, you name it. The stuff that nobody else wants to do. Well, actually the very first year we just watched. We went to a couple rodeos and thought, “Do we really want to get involved with these people?” And then we volunteered and it grew from like I said the ticket takers to the to the other positions and then I thought, Well I want to work in the arena.” so I started working with what they call the arena crew, and I really like the arena crew but I was also getting older and in the arena crew you need to be able to run if you can run and set up barrels or set up the poles or run seventy foot tape across the arena or something like that, so I went in to chute, the chute area, and fell in love with the bulls and the crew, basically it's the crew that got us hooked. We both do the same thing. In conjunction with all that though me being me, I wanted to be a rodeo director. So I started out as an assistant but the next year I was the rodeo director so. Went, you know, went to…IGRA has a University and I went several years to university and took in as much knowledge as I could take in and put it to work at the rodeos. So now I've been led in to…I've branched out to where I wanted to be the rodeo director of the World Gay Rodeo Finals. So bout five years ago I kept ringing their bells saying, “Pick me. Pick me.” and they finally said okay. We'll bring you on board, and so now this coming year, I'll be the rodeo director for World Gay Finals in Albuquerque.
RS: That sounds great.
LS: Looking forward to that. And I have also been the University's chancellor, I'm back down to Vice Chancellor kind of stepping back. I like to volunteer.
RS: Did you ever compete in any?
LS: I did compete. That was an experience, we did really well. Jeanie, that just talked me into this Jeanie, introduced me to fellas said, “Y’all are going to do goat dressing.” I said, “Okay.” And his name was Kenny, and I said okay. I didn't know, I couldn't remember what Kenny looked like from Friday night to Saturday morning but we did…we qualified both days, and I was real proud of myself, and we didn't win any money, but you know. Then we then some of my people we decided to do steer deco, which is another camp event and we did that and we qualified. We never got any money but at least we qualified. And I guess wild drag was the other one, and I loved it. And they gave me quick instructions on how to steer the steer with its tail and so we did pretty well. But that was it. I thought you know, I need to stick back in the chutes and produce some rodeos. So that's what I did.
RS: And what's the sort of gender dynamics of the association? Is it pretty fifty/fifty between men and women?
LS: In our association, in mine or IGRA overall?
RS: Either.
LS: I really can't speak for IGRA, I would venture to say it’s pretty eighty/twenty in IGRA. In my association, which is out of Little Rock, it's right at fifty/fifty. So we do have a lot of women that are involved and from my understanding of the history of Diamond State, we've always had a lot of women involved.
RS: And do you get to travel to a lot of other rodeos?
LS: Oh yes. Yeah, well yeah, I get to travel as long as I've got the money. Yeah, I've been all over the United States to different rodeos and things. I still have a few that I haven't been to. I want to go to Phoenix and there's a couple in California that I'd like to go to.
RS: Do you have friends at most of the other associations?
LS: Oh yeah, we're all friends. We're all good buddies.
RS: Tha's very amazing. Well, I don't want to take up all of your time.
LS: What time is it?
RS: We've got ten more minutes…five more minutes.
LS: How about five more minutes?
RS: Five more minutes. Well, is there any one moment when you were in those early days going, were you like, “This is the thing I want to be involved in?”
LS: Well, yeah, but in my situation, I started late, okay. I'm a late bloomer as far as getting involved with this stuff. Right now I'm sixty-one years old, so it's kind of hard to get back involved in the competing part of it, even though I think I could get up on that bull and ride that bull, something tells me I know better. Yeah.
Man walking by: I'd pull you off.
LS: I mean, I know the mechanics of it now, ‘cause I've watched enough putting the riders on there and all their equipment and what you gotta do and this and that, it's just that my body tells me, “No.” That's the only thing I really regret. Is not doing this sooner. Yeah.
RS: Were you already retired from the military by the time you started this?
LS: No, it was kind, of course you know “Don't Ask, Don't Tell” was still in place. But still I had to watch what I was doing, or not doing, or whatever so I didn't get kicked out. I'd hate to get kicked out at the very end.
RS: Was that pretty scary to deal with?
LS: Yeah, that's a whole different animal of wondering whether or not you're going to get called in and say, “Hey so’n’so saw you here with you know,” it's not a not a fun thing.
RS: Do you think, do you think things are different now that people can sort of participate in gay rodeo or…?
LS: I do know some military folks. In fact, we tap in with the we have an airbase there in Little Rock and the Little Rock Air Force Base and now those guys can come out and ride with us and not have to worry. But the stigma of it being gay so...I kind of...I'm always trying to recruit people to do that. To come out and participate that couldn't do it before. I wanted to put an ad in their paper out there, ‘cause they do have a veterinary section that has horses and stuff and they do ride and everything and they wouldn't let me put that in there ten years ago. But now, it's cool. It’s cool.
RS: So, do you consider yourself a cowgirl?
LS: Sometimes. I've learned a lot about the bulls and the steers and the calves and the horses and things. Somewhat. Somewhat of a cowgirl, you know. I appreciate the real cowgirls that I see that live on the ranches, that have to feed those horses and those animals everyday—morning, noon, night, and the veterinarian what they have to go through. You know I know it costs lots of money and takes lots of time and the weather’s rough and…were you on a ranch?
RS: I did.
LS: From Idaho?
RS: Yeah.
LS: Yes.
RS: Yes, I grew up on a small ranch but I actually spent most of my time hiding to read books ‘cause I was so scared…
LS: Maybe I was hiding. When I was playing softball and basketball and volleyball and tennis and thought, “You know, I really don't…” I just wasn't into the country side of it, you know. I'm not a country-western fan so to speak, even though I love the two step and the waltzes and stuff, I think it’s so neat. I'm just not a dancer either. Not very coordinated. No rhythm. Give me a few beers, I'll dance for you but otherwise, no…
RS: Well, I know you're pressed for time but I would love to continue our conversation.
LS: And I have met a lot of good people some of the best people around. They’re definitely family.
RS: Have they always as a support network?
LS: This is different, you know, there's just this the closeness here that you won't find in a lot of other sports-type activities. I mean you're buddies and stuff but this is somebody has a financial problem, you know, you're going to find somebody that's going to help them out. Or you know we've lost a lot of friends, you're gonna travel across country just to go to their funerals, or something like that. I mean it's just it's tough, we shed a lot of tears here, yeah, so. Don't cry.
RS: It's nice to have a community to do that with.
LS: It is it is. You know besides cause that's this is my gay community so to speak I don't really we have friends that we go out with in Little Rock as far I'm not the marching the Pride Parades thing even though I've been known to do it, uh, even though we do get in the parades as a rodeo association cause we want people to come and know who we are. But they don't experience what we experience. Isn’t that right, David?
David: That's true.
RS: Alright, I will let you go for now.
LS: Okay, thank you, ...