Gay Bingo is back in the Queen City on Nov. 5 after last year’s successful resurgence following a five year hiatus. The event on Nov. 5 was first put on by nonprofit HIV/AIDS services organization RAIN 16 years ago.
This year’s “Star Wars”-themed event will be hosted by drag queen Barbara Burning Bush and will stay true to their motto: “A straight line never wins at Gay Bingo, but our straight friends are always welcome.” Attendees can expect songs, dancing and shenanigans not found at a typical bingo hall.
Bingo Verifying Divas, or BVDs, will help Barbara Burning Bush keep everyone honest.
The event is always a big fundraising opportunity for RAIN. Last year it brought in $85,000, exceeding their goal. This year they are hoping to raise around $100,000.
Nathan Smith, director of development and marketing at RAIN, said that there was interest two years ago from former volunteers to bring the event back, as well as from new individuals who wanted to take part.
The event had originally taken place six times per year, but the amount of work that it created made it difficult, especially considering it is staffed by volunteers. That forced them to bring it to an end after six years. They revived it two years later, realizing that they could instead hold it once a year, on a larger scale, and still make as much, if not more, money.
“This is the third time we’ve come back,” Smith noted. “So we’re kind of like Cher when she says it’s her final farewell tour, and it’s not really her final farewell tour.”
Smith said that the funds raised will be considered unrestricted, allowing them to use those resources wherever they are most needed.
RAIN provides a wide range of services for HIV-positive youth and adults, including offering support groups, helping individuals navigate the healthcare system and connecting clients with housing, medication, treatment and other needed resources.
While many of their programs are funded through grants, not all of them are fully funded through those means.
“This allows us to, for lack of a better word, fill the holes where we need to fill them,” Smith said. “So that way the programs can continue to thrive and the clients can get the services that they need.”
Gay Bingo draws a diverse crowd, from teenagers to the senior citizens. Although Smith points out that those under 18 should get parental approval.
“There is some slapstick humor, and it [does sometimes] kind of push the line, but it’s not overpowering,” Smith said. “So we always kind of tell the parents what it is, and we always say it’s up to the judgment of the parents. Some parents have a much better sense of humor than others.”
Smith credits the volunteers for the continued success of the event.
“We are very dependent on the volunteers, and the volunteers always step up and always amaze me and always outdo any expectations I can think of,” he said.
Smith reported that RAIN has grown recently, adding a mental health support therapist in November of last year. They also recently launched a PrEP program to help stop the spread of HIV. That means that for the first time the organization is serving HIV-negative individuals, after 25 years of serving exclusively those who are HIV-positive.
“I don’t think we will ever have enough staff to meet [all the needs of the community], because I think that’s the nature of any agency, but we have an amazing, dedicated staff that goes above and beyond,” he added.
Star Bingo will take place at the Grady Cole Center, 310 N. Kings Dr., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. and the show starting an hour later. For more information, visit gaybingocharlotte.org.