The misguided assumption that rural America is hopelessly backward and bigoted erases centuries of same-sex relationships in rural communities. It tells young queer people that they must flee their rural hometowns to far-flung cities in order to find safety and acceptance.

That’s why we see so much value in the work of photographer Luke Gilford. For “National Anthem,” his collection of images on display at Manhattan’s SN37 Gallery, Gilford photographed participants in the International Gay Rodeo Association. Many of his subjects have fought for decades to be seen as legitimate riders in the rodeo world, bringing their rural sensibilities and queerness to arenas across the country.

As scholars of gender, sexuality and the American West, we’ve spent years studying gay rodeoers. Through the Gay Rodeo Oral History Project and other research, we’ve been able to highlight the experiences of Gilford’s subjects and reveal the complexities of rural America.

We know that

   

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