Gay Bingo has been a Queen City treat for some time now. Unfortunately, the annual event caps off the decade-old fun this November, and fades quietly into the night.

A benefit fundraiser for the Regional AIDS Interfaith Network (RAIN), now the largest AIDS service organization in the greater metro area, Gay Bingo raised the group’s profile and introduced it to newer and larger audiences, says RAIN executive director Rev. Debbie Warren.

“I think it has been an extroadinary thing for both RAIN and the communtiy,” she says. “We really couldn’t envision all that when we first got started back so many years ago at the Great Aunt Stella center. I don’t think any of us dreamed that it would become this wonderful meeting place for people all over the community.”

Warren says the annual events often bridged together varied communities, like the progressive faith community, women’s groups and, of course, LGBT people.

That broad appeal, Warren says, was and remains a “huge benefit” to the group.

“So many people learned about the work of RAIN through Gay Bingo,” she says.

That community knowledge is important, especially in a time when government spending and budgeting is so tight. Just this year, RAIN and other ASOs across the state had to fight tooth-and-nail to get state legislators to increase funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP).

Funding for lifesaving medications has been the only battle in RAIN’s agenda. Since the closure of Metrolina AIDS Project, RAIN has been meeting the needs of many clients who might have gone without case management unless RAIN had been able to step in.

Warren admits the change in roles was challenging, but she also says it has been rewarding. Taking care of urgent needs, like helping clients with rent and food, is their utmost priority.

Also a priority, Warren says, is ensuring the general health and well-being of its clients and low-income residents of Charlotte. RAIN will soon open its Center City Health Clinic, a primary care facility specializing in both general and HIV/AIDS care services.

“The majority of clinics in the area are at capacity right now for HIV care and there’s not a lot of other community-based clinics that offer HIV specialties,” Warren says. “We’ll be fulfilling both the need of primary care for folks who are un- or under-insured as well as HIV specialty care for those who need it.”

Warren says the clinic, which will be open at First United Methodist Church on Tryon St., will be a “one-stop shop,” for people who are already RAIN clients. “Our offices are located on the fourth floor [of the church] so they’ll be able to come to the clinic and see their case manager in the same trip,” she says.

RAIN’s positive steps forward, even in the face of their last Gay Bingo, is an encouraging sign as many communities, especially in the South, continue to battle rising HIV infection rates. Warren says her group’s work is getting noticed, evidenced by her recent trip to the White House to meet with key policy makers and administration officials.

Of the White House’s commitment to fighting HIV/AIDS, Warren adds, “HIV/AIDS leaders hadn’t been back to the White House since the Clinton days. We’ve had no national plan for the United States for some time now and too see President Obama’s commitment to having that national plan — and, of course, activists and leaders have called for that for some time — so it is good to see he followed the guidance of the folks working on AIDS.”

Warren is hopeful that national leaders’ commitment on the issue will translate into real change on the ground in places like Charlotte. With that commitment and efforts to empower those communities most at risk, Warren says the fight against HIV/AIDS can be won.

info: Learn more about this year’s Gay Bingo and buy tickets at gaybingocharlotte.org.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.