Bingo isn’t necessarily the first thing that pops into your head when you’re looking for something exciting to do on a weekend. Your memories of nights spent in the church hall with grandma aren’t exactly equivalent to the fun night out with friends that you’re looking for.
But in the years you’ve spent avoiding bingo like the plague, the face of bingo has changed here in Philly. Say goodbye to grandma, and say hello to some drag queens!Gay Bingo is a monthly fundraiser held by the Philadelphia AIDS Fund, which raises money to help people living with HIV and AIDS in the Delaware Valley.And yes, Gay Bingo is hosted by drag queens. Sept. 15 will mark the start of the fundraiser’s 12th season, and they’re kicking it off with a Disco Inferno Night.
“It’s a fun and festive way to raise money for a cause,” said Kelly Groves, the community and corporate relations coordinator at the AIDS Fund. Groves is also a host at the Bingo Night, though while in drag he’s known as Shay D’Pines. He and the other hosts dress in accordance with each month’s theme. They work their way through the crowd in roller
skates and refer to themselves as “Bingo Verifying Divas,” or simply as BVDs.
Many of the people who show up to play also wear costumes that correspond with that night’s theme. Each month, they play 12 games of bingo. Players can win anywhere from $100 to $1,000 dollars in prizes.
Local businesses and theaters also donate small prizes, which are awarded to the audience members with the best costumes.Don’t be intimidated by the name of the game. Gay Bingo doesn’t target a specific demographic and welcomes anyone who wishes to play – though you should be 18, as it is technically considered gambling.
“I would say that about half the people who show up are what I would identify as straight. Some people bring their families,” said Groves.
“It’s just a very interesting and diverse group of people.” Gay Bingo Philly began 12 years ago as an idea of then-staff members at the AIDS Fund. Each season begins in September and ends in June for a summer vacation. Anywhere from 400 to 600 people show up each month to play and watch the BVDs perform. The fundraiser is organized by the small staff at the AIDS Fund, and about 30 to 40 volunteers are needed each month to carry out a successful night.
“Bingo is almost entirely run by volunteers,” said Groves. Tickets are $20. You can buy them in advance or at the door, but Groves recommends buying them ahead of time.
“We usually sell out pretty quickly,” he said.
One hundred percent of the profits go into the AIDS Fund. The fundraiser in Philadelphia was so successful that it spawned similar events across the country, and there are now Gay Bingos in Dallas, Los Angeles and New York City. Gay Bingo has raised over a million dollars since it began, according to their MySpace profile at www.myspace.com/gaybingophilly.
Mary Elizabeth Coyle can be reached at email@example.com.