"The Biggest Freak in the World" - Side Show's Bill Russell on Coming Out Among the Cowboys

By Bill Russell
10 Jun 2014

The amphitheater is completely in the open and needless to say there were a ton of tourists visiting. As I was in the middle of my speech and said something about being gay, a man way up at the back loudly yelled, "BOOO!" A couple of the organizers ran up to talk to him. He felt it wasn't appropriate for his young children to hear the word "gay." I have two words in response to that — "Puh Leeeeze."

Five years ago I married Bruce Bossard two days before the 30th anniversary of our first date. Since I was pulling together a wedding announcement to send to the "Times" (it was published — every bride's dream — well, this one's at any rate), I decided to send it to all the local papers around my hometown.

I discovered that to have a wedding announcement in the Rapid City Journal you had to pay $45 and submit a form. When I got to "Bride's Maiden Name:" on the form, I decided to call. "This form doesn't apply to my situation." They dutifully took the information and my $45 and it was published the day after our wedding.

A week later there was an angry letter to the editor in the Sunday paper complaining that the people of South Dakota had voted that marriage means one man/one woman and the paper should not be publishing the wedding announcement of two men. The following Sunday there were five letters rebutting the first one, saying things like, "Their marriage is legal in many states," "We know Bill and this is important news" and "They paid their $45 like everyone else so why not?" Definitely heartening.

I've been bringing Bruce back to the Hills with me for 30+ years now, and I actually think the neighboring ranchers have a harder time accepting that we don't own a car than they do with us as a couple.

Not long after Stonewall, a lot of leaders in our community started encouraging everyone to come out as publicly as they could, and I do believe that has made all the difference in our growing acceptance. Thinking of "gay" as something that doesn't affect your life or your neighborhood makes it easy to dismiss or hate. Being made aware that your family member or co-worker or friend or Cowboy's Russell's son is gay and out and proud makes it harder to categorize us as the "other." Even the cowboys seem to be getting the message.

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