Edge Publication Story by Renee Baker, July 17, 2008.
My 21-year-old son once asked me, “Do we really need a gay bingo?” He wondered why we needed a “Separate but Equal” bingo, and why can’t we all just get along? My answer was “Yes,” of course we “need” a gay bingo. As best I could, I explained that it not only financially supports community services, but it also is a bridge between our different communities…and now he gets it.
Let’s get this straight: Gaybingo is not just bingo. Gaybingo is an extravaganza, with bingo thrown in for good measure. Each third Saturday of the month, 15 entertainers and 30 to 40 volunteers build a fabulous show around a different outrageous theme and set. To boot, 100% of the proceeds benefit the Resource Center of Dallas, whose mission is to provide programs and services to the LGBT community as well as to those affected by HIV/AIDS.
Gaybingo turns seven years old this month, two months before the Center itself turns 25. In celebration, this month’s theme was chosen to be something big and something gay – musicals. Live! at Gaybingo will feature Broadway showstoppers and numbers from shows like Chicago and Cats, complete with music and dancing. And how could they pull that and 15 rounds of bingo off without a few drag queens?
The show this Saturday is hosted by drag veterans Patti Le Plae Safe and Jenna Skyy, and features the crowd-pleasing BVDs (Bingo Verifying Dudes and Divas). The entertainment is by “Something Fabulous!!!”, a Dallas-based performance/activist group that recently appeared in the auditions for the NBC national television show, America’s Got Talent.
Each month there’s also a surprise local celebrity, and this time we’re letting the cat out of the bag: this month’s guest is red-headed radio diva Kellie Rasberry, best known for her work at KISS-FM on the nationally-syndicated Kidd Kraddick In The Morning Show.
A sold-out crowd of 400 is not uncommon at Gaybingo, and its best advertising is word of mouth. Kari Logan, a vice-president at CitiBank and also the AIDS Arms LifeWalk volunteer of the year, attends every month and brings an entourage with her from Lewisville. “I love Gaybingo!” she says, “But can we chat later? I’m in the middle of game six.” Logan, in good spirits, sat in the front row and didn’t mind getting drawn into a friendly dauber fight with her buddies.
Each Gaybingo is produced by Henry Ramirez, who is the Center Programs Manager for the RCD. It’s an understatement to say he’s Mr. Gaybingo. Ramirez started volunteering at RCD back in 1994, and joined full time a few years ago.
To get a team of 50 people together each month is no easy task. I suspect his secret to garnering such a supportive collaboration is his charm and his sincerity. He believes in what he does for the Center and that sense of meaning emanates from him. You can’t help but become a believer too.
Gaybingo started out small in the Center caf� seven years ago. It quickly grew and the production was moved to the Lakewood Theatre off Gaston Avenue, for a period of about six years. This past January, Gaybingo was moved to The Rose Room at Station 4, owned by Caven Enterprises, in Oak Lawn.
“Caven is awesome,” Ramirez says. “We’re like family with them. They have been a very big supporter of us for years, and they really stepped up to the plate.” Caven not only offered Gaybingo a free space to hold the monthly fundraiser, but also made adjustments to their stage lighting to accommodate the needs of the show. Holding Gaybingo at Station 4 also benefits the local Oak Lawn economy. Ramirez says having several hundred people come on a Saturday night certainly increases revenue at restaurants, bars and stores in the area.
Gaybingo also encourages a broader sense of community. Rosemarie Odom, a board member of the Resource Center, says Gaybingo gives the straight community a chance to meet members of the gay community in a safe and fun environment. “Gaybingo is a place where gay people can take their families and friends,” she says, and overcome some of the anxiety related to having a gay family member.
Another benefit of the gathering, she adds, is that it gives both the straight community, as well as the gay community, a chance to meet transgender individuals on common ground. Ramirez includes many transgender individuals as volunteers and performers as he considers them a “big part” of his family.
Ramirez was honored in March of this year by the Center’s Gender, Education, Advocacy and Resource (GEAR) program. He has been such a supporter of the transgender community, that GEAR has named its ally award after him: the Henry Ramirez Ally Award.
Ramirez is grateful to all supporting sponsors. Gaybingo welcomes donations of all kinds from gift certificates and concert tickets to annual cash donations.
You will have a chance to meet Ramirez this coming Saturday at The Rose Room at Station 4 in Oak Lawn, at 3911 Cedar Springs, Dallas. Feel free to live it up and wear a costume. Doors open at 5:00 p.m. and the show starts at 6:00 p.m. Guests must be at least 21 years of age to attend. The cost is $25 for 15 games of bingo. Visit www.rcdallas.org for more information.
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