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BINGO!

By |2009-04-23T09:00:00-04:00April 23rd, 2009|Entertainment|

by Jessica Carreras

It’s cheap. It’s easy. It’s taking the gays by storm.And no, it’s not your ex (that hussy).
From fundraisers to church events and even Drag Queen-hosted outings, there’s no question about it: Gays love bingo almost as much as their grandmas do. And though the God-fearin’, church-goin’ hip replacement crowd may abhor it, LGBT bingo nights are anything but the dull, fluorescent-lit pictures usually elicited by the phrase “N-34.”
“It seems to me that bingo has grown (in the gay community),” says Alison Strasser, office manager and volunteer coordinator for the Kalamazoo Gay and Lesbian Resource Center. “I’ve had people come to me and ask if we ever do any bingos because they had gone to Royal Oak or Grand Rapids and gone to them in the past and were looking for something like that here.”
Not one to disappoint, KGLRC hosted their first bingo ever on April 22 – an activity Strasser says she hopes they can continue. More than just a fun night, bingo aims to raise much-needed funds for the center. “We’re just kind of winging it,” she adds, “hoping that…it’s something we can experiment with that will be successful and that we could do on a regular basis.”
At Five15 Media, Mojo and More in Royal Oak, it’s already a staple of their entertainment schedule. But this bingo is like none Michigan has ever seen.
A church pastor announcer? Forget it. White, cardboard cards? Not even close. A drag queen, cute men and a hilarious, dirty time? Now you’re talking.
Launched just several months ago, Drag Queen Bingo at Five15 has really taken off – and it’s often hard for late arrivals to even find a seat. But for those who get there on time, bingo will be forever changed.
While Strasser says their short-staffed office chose bingo because it was an easy and cheap event to pull off, Gary Baglio, co-owner of Five15, claims that bingo is “a lot of work.”
Really?
Before beginning the diva-hosted evenings, which now take place twice a month, Baglio did his homework. He traveled to Chicago, Toronto and New York to check out their bingo events. He researched types of cards and the effects of various hosts. He even frequented a few bingo halls – and was appalled by what he saw. “I wanted to poke my eyes out,” he says of the experience. “It was so horribly boring and regimented. I told my business partner, ‘We are not doing this at Five15.’ It’s not fun. It’s boring. People that I know want to meet other people, and you can’t do it staring at a bingo card punching out numbers.”
Instead, Baglio copied the successes of the bingos he saw in other cities, like giving proceeds to local LGBT non-profits – and using drag queens as number callers. “The drag queen is the fun part,” he explains. “We’ve had Sabin, Holly Hood, we’ve had Electra (Lites). Coming up in a couple of weeks, we’ll have Trixie Deluxxe. It’s more of an entertainment evening that helps the community out at the same time. But really, what people come to see is the drag queen.
“The rest is kind of secondary.”
Except, of course, when you meet that cute bingo player across the room.
When it comes to scoring big, says Baglio, some people at Drag Queen Bingo win more than money when Sabin calls out their O-69. While some players are just in it to win it, others are wooing a date with a night of number calling. “It has become a date destination,” Baglio says. “A lot of guys come with dates. It’s something different to do other than go to a movie or go to a bar. You can sit and have fun and talk.”
Strasser agrees, adding that bingo provides an atmosphere more conducive to making friends (or more) than a loud, crowded bar. “You can chat with people and it’s a good social outlet,” she says. “It gets (you) away from just going to the bar all the time. I think people are looking for stuff that is not just going to the bar and trying to meet folks that way.”
But the shocker about LGBT bingos? The straights love it.
“One of the surprising things to me is how the straight community has embraced this,” Baglio says of his ally-friendly events. “They love it. We’ve got a group of young ladies, college-age girls…they haven’t missed one.”
It could just be the key to bringing the whole community together.
Sue Zander, who helps run bingo fundraisers for her Metropolitan Community Church in Pontiac, says the events have helped straight bingo-goers to see that LGBT people aren’t so different. “I know that everybody who comes to our bingo probably doesn’t know that we’re gay,” she explains of their weekly events, held at a local hall in Pontiac. “I think it’s a great way to show them that we’re just like other people. We’re not any different than anybody else. It’s a good way to reach out to the heterosexual community.
“I think that’s the best part of it – besides the money.”
Or the, er, prizes.

About the Author:

BTL Staff
Between The Lines has been publishing LGBTQ-related content in Southeast Michigan since the early '90s. This year marks the publication's 27th anniversary.