Gay Bingo and AIDS Research

For decades bingo has been used by the Catholic Church as a fundraising tool for the various charities the church engages in. In fact if you mention bingo most people immediately think of Friday and Saturday nights in a smoky church basement or recreation hall. As a fundraising tool bingo has been wildly successful for the church and continues to be a mainstay of their fundraising efforts. Bingo enables local parishes to keep tuition at parochial schools affordable, funds building maintenance and improvements, and supports missionary work worldwide. The revenue generated by bingo games has enabled churches, veterans, and charitable organizations to engage in works for the common good.

In the past decade the Gay community has embraced bingo with a vengeance and flamboyance that brings new life to the game. Almost all the major cities in the US have one or several Gay themed bingo games and seats at some of these games are as sought after as front row seats at a new Broadway production and are just as hard to get. These games have raised millions for AIDS research and other charities.

What is probably the most popular bingo game in the United States takes place in Los Angeles at the popular bar and restaurant Hamburger Mary’s. Since 1998 ‘Legendary Bingo’ has been raising money for various charities and the arts and it has been estimated that over 1.5 million dollars have gone to charities ranging from AIDS research to Habitat for Humanity. The games were first held at a local gourmet coffee shop and moved to their present venue at Hamburger Mary’s.

Within a short time celebrities began showing up at these wildly popular games and the tradition of celebrity bingo callers began. The list is quite impressive and past callers have included, Ed Asner, Linda Blair, Ruth Buzzi, Courteney Cox, Daryl Hannah, Perez Hilton, Lisa Kudrow, Rod McKuen, Tori Spelling, and others too numerous to mention. Games are held regularly in West Hollywood, Palm Springs, and Newport Beach. Legendary Bingo is easily one of the hottest events in the Los Angeles area and started a trend that has spread across the US. Like they say on their website “This is not your grandmothers’ bingo”, outrageous games, outlandish people and LOTS of fun!

In Philadelphia Gay bingo is immensely popular and has a colorful history. Games are held at the Gershmen Y in Center City and each game has a unique theme. Examples include, Glamour Goth, Bitchy Bridesmaids, Rocky Horror, and Madonna Madness to name just a few. Monthly games are hosted by the Philadelphia AIDS Fund and all the money is used to fund AIDS awareness programs and prevention and care services for those living with AIDS. Over the years the Philadelphia AIDS Fund has raised the impressive sum of 12.6 million dollars through gay bingo and a wide variety of other fundraisers.

In San Francisco the aptly named ‘Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence’ sponsor bingo games that attract both the gay and straight communities. The ‘sisters’ are well known in the San Francisco area for their unique fundraising events. These events have not been without controversy. In 2006 the ‘sisters’ were booted from the Most Holy Redeemer church because of complaints from the church’s congregation. Several charitable organizations were forced to temporarily cut back some services funded by the bingo games. Since then the ‘sisters’ have found a new facility and things are running smoothly again.

Bingo is clearly one of the most effective fundraising devices for the gay community. The amount of revenue that has been generated is astounding and clearly demonstrates the solidarity of the gay community. AIDS research and social services for the victims of this tragic disease have received desperately needed funds from gay bingo games nationwide. These games have, in a small way, brought the straight and gay communities closer together and have opened channels of communication between the two groups.