If not for the coronavirus, this month would have seen the return of Drag Queen Bingo to Laramie. The fundraiser, which draws hundreds of people each year, was rescheduled for October. The bingo is hosted by the Stilettos, and raises money to help Wyomingites living with HIV and AIDS. Wyoming Public Radio's Jeff Victor spoke with Jim Osborn, who performs with the Stilettos as Martina, or Marti Gras.
Jeff Victor: I think my first Drag Queen Bingo was 3 or 4 years ago, but a lot of Wyoming probably hasn't had the chance to go to it or maybe haven't even heard of it. So what is drag queen bingo? What would usually be going on this time of year if we weren't for the current situation?
Jim Osborn: It was originally an after party for Wyoming AIDS Walk and grew into a bigger event. And we ended up to the point where we're now raising more money at bingo that we ever did putting on the walks. The money that we raise goes to a 501cs nonprofit, WyoAIDS Assistance. And we distribute little mini grants to folks around the state. We work with the HIV case workers around the state. They put in a request on behalf of a client for things that insurance or assistance programs don't cover. So we pay for the things that kind of fill in the gaps. If somebody has to travel a lot to go see their doctor because we only have two doctors in the state right now I believe who are primary care providers for HIV patients. So, sometimes we pay for travel reimbursements to go get medical care, we have paid for water purification systems for people living in rural environments who might be on a well or something like that … because those add up a whole lot. Especially right now with the coronavirus, this is a population that is ostensibly immunocompromised. These are some of the people who are potentially most at risk. And there's also a larger economic impact. Even if someone's health is not compromised due to the virus, they could still be out of work and having difficulty making ends meet.
JV: Can you give me an idea of how big this event is? How many people usually go? And how much money do you raise?
JO: This last year we had a sell-out crowd which was 360 seats I think. And over the course of the evening, we raised almost $30,000 - we haven't quite broken that 30,000 mark yet. We're able to cover most of the cost of the event through some grant writing, and some grants through the state. And that way every dollar we raise at Drag Queen Bingo goes directly to providing client assistance.
JV: Could you tell me how not having this event this year will impact WyoAIDS Assistance, or what does this mean for the people that organization usually helps?
JO: We've been lucky that we've been able to reschedule the event for October, so Drag Queen Bingo is still going to happen, it's just going to happen a lot later than it normally would. We've been trying to build the client assistance fund up to the point where we could give larger grants out or start branching out into other programs. But we haven't quite reached the point where we can do that. And this is definitely going to impact our ability to do that and move that goalpost farther down the road. The other problem that we're running into is one of the larger grants we do receive from Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS … We will not have the ability to even apply for that for the next grant cycle because they're going to use that money and help provide assistance for broadway actors to offset things for them while they're out of work. And it's hard to be mad about that. It's going to a very important cause. But it does mean down the road, we will have less grant money coming into us and the donations from people in the community are going to mean that much more to our organization and in turn, to people living with HIV and AIDS here in the state of Wyoming.
JV: Have there been any other difficulties with fundraising because of COVID?
JO: Absolutely. I think this is going to have a big impact on our event and our ability to do some fundraising. We're worried about our ability to raise donations for prizes. We're also concerned about people's ability to give as individuals. We have a lot of people who are out of work right now. A lot of businesses are closed down. We know that's going to have an impact on our ability to raise funds. We don't know how profound that's going to be yet, and we won't know that until October. People always have to make decisions about where they can provide support and where they can afford to give money and how much they can afford to give.
JV: And in the meantime, are there other ways that people could help people living with HIV or AIDS?
JO: Something that everyone can do is to educate themselves a little bit more about the disease and about the way it can and cannot be transmitted. Get tested - knowing your HIV status is an important thing that you can do to protect yourself and others during this time and year-round. The other thing they could do, if they were of a mind, is go to WYoAIDS.org and make a donation to Wyoming Aids assistance now before bingo and then once tickets go on sale for bingo in the fall, buy a ticket and come and support us a little bit more.
JV: Thanks for talking with me about all of this. Hopefully next time, we can sit down and talk face-to-face and not record this from our respective homes.
JO: Yeah, it's always a little bit more interactive, and Drag Queen Bingo is certainly all about the interaction. So, we'll come through this on the other side and we'll pull together just like we've done for generations. It's what we do.
Have question about this story? Contact the reporter, Jeff Victor at email@example.com.