After a five year hiatus, Gay Bingo returns to Charlotte Saturday night as a signature fundraising event for the Regional Aids Interfaith Network. RAIN is one of the largest nonprofits in the Carolinas providing direct services to HIV/AIDS-impacted clients. It has been operating in Charlotte since 1992.
What started in 2000 as Big Hair Bingo in the basement of the Great Aunt Stella Center, attracting 100 supporters, has grown dramatically over the years. Nearly 2,000 attended at the Grady Cole Center in 2010, the event’s last year.
Part campy musical drag review, part schtick-laden comedy show, the often outrageous and unconventional bingo event is a fun and lighthearted evening with a very serious purpose.
“Gay Bingo is completely organized and staffed by volunteers,” said Nathan Smith, director of development and marketing for RAIN. “We took some time off for a few years, but now we are back and could not be more excited. This year’s event is already a sellout. We expect to raise upwards of $80,000.”
Smith said Gay Bingo is recommended for mature audiences and features more than a dozen performers who spend months in advance costume preparation and rehearsal.
“It’s a bit outlandish, as there are guys in wigs, heels and thrift-store frocks performing in dance and musical numbers,” said Smith. “The audience loves it. The games are bingo-ish variations and there is a great deal of audience participation. While there are no cash prizes, we have several great community partners who have donated a number of raffle prizes.”
BVDs (bingo verifying divas) roam the hall to authenticate winning game cards. The evening’s host, Barbara Burning Bush (a stage name), keeps the crowd in stitches and helps set the irreverent tone the event has been known for.
“Gay Bing is beloved because so many in the community participate,” said Smith. “Church groups buy entire tables. Book clubs, even grandmas, all turn out. It is a great evening of fun.”