Arts·Here & Queer

Luke Gilford wants to take you to the queer rodeo

Gilford has paid stunning tribute to a great American subculture with a book and a film, and sat down with Peter Knegt to talk about it.

The filmmaker and photographer has paid stunning tribute to a great American subculture with National Anthem

Luke Gilford on the set of Here & Queer.
Luke Gilford on the set of Here & Queer. (CBC Arts)

Here & Queer is an interview series hosted by Peter Knegt that celebrates and amplifies the work of LGBTQ artists through unfiltered conversations.

If you haven't been to the queer rodeo, then you need to at least find your way to the stunning work of Luke Gilford. The photographer and filmmaker has built a career documenting queer rodeo culture, first in his 2020 photography monograph National Anthem, and then in the new film of the same name — which is being released in theatres later this year.

Gilford stopped by the set of Here & Queer when the film version National Anthem made its international premiere at the Toronto International FIlm Festival last fall. He had a lot to say about his journey through both projects, so giddy up:

Luke Gilford grew up around the rodeo. His dad was in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, so many of his earliest memories are at the rodeo with his family. 

"I love Western culture and all those rodeos were so fun as a kid," Gilford says. "You know, the sunsets and adrenaline and animals and rhinestones and hairspray... it's an amazing environment to be in as a kid. But as I grew older, I just learned how homophobic mainstream rodeos are. And so I kind of stayed away from that world, but part of me really missed being in those spaces."

In 2016, Gilford was at a Pride event in Northern California, and he saw some queer cowboys there. 

"Because I've grown up in that world, I knew it was not, like, the Village People just like dressed up as cowboys," he says. "They were really authentic cowboys. We started a conversation and they were so warm and so welcoming. You know, a lot of the folks have similar stories where they grew up in rural places, or grew up going to the mainstream rodeo, and felt the need to kind of create their own safe spaces. So they invited me and immediately I felt like family. There was just, like, this electric charge of belonging."

Charlie Plummer in a scene from National Anthem.
Charlie Plummer in a scene from National Anthem. (TIFF)

Gilford slowly built trust within the community and started photographing a lot of the folks within it. And the rest is queer rodeo history.

"First, it was a book called National Anthem, which came out in 2020," he says. "But while I was making the book, I felt the photos were just kind of scratching on the surface. I was finding so much commonality between myself and a lot of the people. As I was becoming friends with them and taking their pictures and all of that, I was hearing so many of their stories, and so I just started putting that into a script. I wanted the script to include a lot of the people from the real community, and to sort of be blending my story with their stories. And so it grew in that way where I started writing in like 2018, and it took me a while to come up with something that I felt excited about, and [I] started sharing it in like 2021. And then, yeah, we were shooting in early 2022."

National Anthem premiered on the festival circuit in 2023, and will be released in theaters later this year.


Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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