June is Pride Month, and GayBINGO celebrates 25 years with its upcoming “25th Anniversary GayBINGO Spectacular! & Back to School Drive.” Guests can enjoy the antics of the Bingo Verifying Divas and a “1996” theme complete with the Macarena.
The event is scheduled to take place in on June 18, with doors opening at 6 p.m. Floor seats are $36 with VIP upgrades available, and the event will also be collecting new school supplies for HIV-infected children. We talked to AIDS Fund Executive Director Robb Reichard about the event, the amazing work of the Philadelphia AIDS Fund and 25 fantastic years of GayBINGO.
Happy 25th Anniversary, GayBINGO!
WT: Twenty-five years is such a milestone! What inspired the beginning of GayBINGO?
Reichard: In the mid-1990s, an AIDS Fund volunteer attended an event in Seattle and brought the idea back to Philly.
WT: Can you tell me a little bit about how the emergency funds are distributed and what organizations the event typically supports?
Reichard: AIDS Fund’s emergency grant program is designed to assist clients in preventing a financial crisis from turning into a health crisis. Applications for emergency financial assistance are submitted by the client’s Medical Case Manager. Half of the grants assist clients in obtaining safe, permanent housing by helping with security deposits and/or first/last month’s rent; 25% assist clients who need to maintain housing when facing eviction or utility shutoffs through grants for back rent and/or utilities.
The remaining grants cover things such as a walker, cane, hearing aids, or perhaps health insurance premiums. Medical Case Management clients at Action Wellness, BEBASHI, Congreso de Latinos Unidos, Drexel Partnership Clinic, Einstein Infectious Disease Clinic, Family & Community Services of Delaware County, Family Services of Montgomery County, Philadelphia FIGHT, MacGregor Infectious Disease Clinic at HUP, Mazzoni Center, Penn Community Practice at Penn Presbyterian, PHMC Care Clinic, Prevention Point Philadelphia, and Urban Solutions are able to access the emergency grant program.
Also, 75% of grant recipients live below the federal poverty line, and an average grant of just $440 can be life-changing.
WT: How has the event changed since its inception?
Reichard: In the early years, the Bingo Verifying Divas (BVDs) were on rollerblades, but we don’t do that anymore. About 15 years ago, AIDS Fund added an opening production number, and five years ago, we added drag performances at intermission. Of course, we also added the annual spin-off event higher-ticketed fundraiser, Black-Tie GayBINGO!
WT: What do you think keeps people coming back for GayBINGO every year?
Reichard: Despite being around for 25 years, about half the audience at every event are first-time attendees. Our regular players enjoy the fun and campiness of the event and enjoy seeing how the BVDs dress for the evening’s theme - all while supporting an important cause.
WT: How do you describe GayBINGO to those who are completely unfamiliar with it?
Reichard: GayBINGO is the fabulous, irreverent, campy, wildly popular monthly event that has been entertaining Philadelphia audiences for 25 years while raising emergency funds for those living with HIV. Hundreds of people come for a night of good old-fashioned Bingo…with a decidedly different twist.
GayBINGO is hosted by the infamous Bingo Verifying Divas (BVDs) – a wild bunch of drag queens who entertain the crowd with their wacky humor and always outrageous costumes. GayBINGO is an evening of unbridled fun, complete with ridiculous musical numbers, hilarious drag queen antics, chances to win fabulous prizes, all for a good cause.
AIDS Fund provides emergency financial assistance to people living with HIV disease in the Greater Philadelphia region while providing education and increasing public awareness of HIV/AIDS issues.