PHILADELPHIA (Reuters Life!) - Philadelphia's gay community sought to dispel some sexual stereotypes when it held the city's first gay rodeo.
About 50 contestants roped steers, cracked whips, and wrestled cattle to the ground during the weekend in an attempt to prove to themselves - and the rest of the world - that they are just as capable of tackling a traditionally macho sport as their straight counterparts.
"This proves that we are normal," said Jen Vrana, president and founder of the Liberty Gay Rodeo Association, a 240-member group that was founded two years ago.
"This is an all-American sport, and we are all-American people."
But the event - like other longer-established gay rodeos elsewhere in the United States - distinguishes itself from mainstream rodeos by injecting a little fun along with the strength and skill required to control a bucking animal.
Interspersed with familiar events like steer riding and calf roping were "goat dressing" - in which pairs of contestants try to put hot-pink underwear on the hind quarters of an uncooperative goat in the shortest time - and "steer decorating" in which one partner of a team has to tie a ribbon on the tail of a struggling steer while the other tries to hold on to its horns.
Chuck Curry, a 45-year-old contestant in three events, came to the rodeo from Fort Lauderdale Florida. He said he had already participated in five other gay rodeos over the last three years and works two jobs, as a barman and a taxi driver, to support his hobby.
Asked why the rodeo appeals to him so much, he replied: "I get to meet people - that's as politely as I can put it."
Curry said gay rodeos, which were started in the mid-1970s, have caught on so much that his father, who wanted him to become a football player, comes to watch.
Scott Jackson, one of about 500 mostly male spectators, said gay rodeos appeal to the gay community because they reinforce a sense of masculinity among a population that has stereotypically feminine traits. It also allows participants to aspire to a "country and western lifestyle" even if they are city dwellers.
"It's a very dangerous event, and we are doing things that the professionals do," said Jackson, 38, a government worker from Oklahoma City who had come to Philadelphia to support its first gay rodeo.
Although the Philadelphia event was held in suburban Devon, home to a blue-blood horse show, the gay crowd did its best to create a western atmosphere, wearing cowboy hats and boots, and tight jeans with oversize belt buckles.
Dan Williamson, 44, a graphic designer from Washington DC, said he attends gay rodeos because they are a chance to be among friends. "It's not so much about being gay," he said. "It's like a church picnic, you know everybody, it's very accepting."