Patricia Nell Warren, a historian and author, said that same-sex relationships between cowboys were often tolerated in the early days of the West largely because manpower was scarce, thus making it impractical for landowners to be choosy about whom they hired.But attitudes changed with the introduction of mechanized agriculture, which rendered human labor more expendable. "Tolerance went away after that," she said.
Today, the presence of gay men and women in rural America is not exactly embraced by the mainstream but people's perceptions have evolved. James Pluth, a San Diego man who attended Sunday's panel, is a retiree who is actively involved in gay rodeo organizations. He said his sexuality is a "nonissue" when it comes to working with straight rodeo associates.
But, he said that straight rodeo groups sometimes engage in Christian activities, such as group prayer and Bible study, that may make some gay participants feel uncomfortable.
"Out West," which is budgeted at $25,000 -- modest for a museum program of this nature -- is still in the fundraising stage, though it has already attracted some big name contributors like HBO.