Across the Triangle, families scramble to stand and cheer when Mary K Mart calls O-69 in her sing-song voice. Non-compliance is a risk they re unwilling to take.
“There are always folks who have to parade on-stage,” laughs John Paul Womble, director of development and public affairs for the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina and host for Drag Bingo, one of the Triangle’s most entertaining fundraisers for HIV/AIDS.
“And they have to pay the piper,” he continued. “Not only do our Bingo Verifying Divas – the BVDs – make you stand up and do the shimmy again they make you do it on stage. You can’t be shy at Drag Bingo, that’s for sure.”
And while Drag Bingo may seem like it’s all fun and games, it has proven to be the perfect bridge-building event between the LGBT and heterosexual communities.
“I’ve been to bingo fundraisers across the state,” said Rita Dozier, a longtime Drag Bingo player, “and no other event is as fun and affordable as Drag Bingo. I can even bring my 10-year-old grandson. There’s nowhere else where we can spend $40 for two tickets and dinner, while simultaneously making a difference in someone’s lives.”
Ms. Dozier, who is also a regular volunteer with the Alliance, discovered both the event and the agency through her community volunteering efforts. Neither she nor her grandson nor any of her immediate family are living with HIV or AIDS. “I read the paper; I watch the news,” she said. “Anybody can become infected with HIV. In this day and age, it’s shocking to me to see that the numbers continue to increase. It breaks my heart, really. So, I decided that I needed to put my money where my mouth was, and figured out a way to work in my community to educate myself and my family.”
Through the years, the Alliance has been quite successful in forging a strong relationship across the lines, so to speak. And like Ms. Dozier said, the face of HIV has changed though the decades, and so has its impact on the community-at-large.
“We still have a large percentage of clients who are gay men,” said Womble, “but our client demographics have shifted over the past four or five years. We have seen an increase in heterosexual women and men, from all races, cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds.”
Since opening its doors, the Alliance has been proactive in meeting the needs of the community. It recognizes the importance of placing value and responsibility on the shoulders of those affected which is all of us. With 45 employees and over 700 volunteers working through its client services, prevention education, housing, and faith ministries programs, the needs of over 1,000 North Carolinians living with HIV disease in the Triangle area are met.
“Drag Bingo,” said Womble, “provides the perfect conduit to the community. We ve found that people are just far more receptive to the idea of learning about HIV disease in the silly Drag Bingo setting. We’re not preachy or judgmental. There are no quizzes and no interventions. It’s just a fun night of laughter and participation, with dinner and a show. And, when you smile and meet a new person across the table from you, you realize that gay or straight, man or woman, positive or negative, they re having just as much fun as you are.”
So if a fun evening of Drag Bingo can bridge the community, imagine how far we d be if we all got serious?
The next Drag Bingo, March Madness Drag Bingo, will be Saturday, March 28 at the Durham Armory. The doors open at 6 p.m. and the show begins at 7 p.m.
For more information and for the annual schedule, visit www.DragBingo.com.
More information about the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina can be found at www.aas-c.org.