Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, step right up and get yourself a new gay-bingo card. That's right. It's that time of the month again for all local queens, and kings, of bingo. Saturday is Big Top GayBINGO night at the Lakewood Theater.
Dallas' own madam of ceremonies Kerri Oki hosts this amazing event featuring, among other attractions, incredible acts of daring by the Bingo Verifying Divas, otherwise known as BVDs, or drag queens on inline skates, for those who don't do acronyms. "It's just like Grandma's bingo, only way more fun," says Oki, a.k.a. Justin Hughes.
Gay bingo transformed from quirky gay bar lounge act to solid fund-raising method almost 10 years ago when a nonprofit in Seattle began using the wacky event as a way to bring in cash for local AIDS programs. The toned-down version of the original bar bingo has since caught on in cities all over the country, including Dallas. Philadelphia's gay bingo is one of the most popular, raising nearly $1 million over the past six years to support Philly-area AIDS services.
Dallas' gay bingo is produced by the John Thomas Gay & Lesbian Community Center, a local nonprofit offering various youth programs, women's health education programs, Hispanic outreach programs and fun-ed classes, among other services. Gay-bingo night has drawn an average of 450 people monthly since its debut about 18 months ago. The event raised about $100,000 for the center those first 12 months, Hughes says. This month's gay-bingo night also features a book drive for Sam Houston and Eduardo Mata elementary schools. Bingoers' kiddy-book donations go to the schools' students. The diversity of gay bingo's local beneficiaries is one of multiple signs that despite the name, gay bingo isn't just for gays. Cross-dressing has crossed over. Everyone from grannies, grandchildren and homespun Cleaver couples from the 'burbs to chiseled workout boys, and girls, in muscle shirts and men in wigs and makeup attend the event. Hughes says the split between gay men and lesbians and heterosexuals is generally about 70-30 respectively, according to a sexual-orientation show of hands at the beginning of each month's festivities.
Although the $850 total in winnings from the night's 15 bingo games is an obvious attraction, not to mention the raffle to win a drag makeover, the main draw is the show's theatrics--lots of silly, irreverent humor. Everyone, including the elderly, must stomp their feet like they're throwing a temper tantrum if the bingo caller shouts out B-7, as in bratty 7-year-old. And if the call is for O-69, everyone, even children who don't get it, has to stand, raise their arms to the heavens and yell "O-69" like they're on the 700 Club or at a Billy Graham revival. And don't even think about weaseling out of full participation. "They have to do it by themselves if they get caught not doing it," Hughes notes.
Dressing up for the event, however, is optional. As for the show's sassy emcee's getup, "most likely a ringmaster, maybe a trapeze girl," Hughes says. One last thing: Please keep in mind, having trained as a BVD in Philly for a few years, Hughes is a gay-bingo professional. So, regardless of what the diva ends up donning, don't try any gay-bingo stunts at home, at least not without an expert on hand.