The Reagan Administration’s homophobic fueled jokes about and neglect of responding to the AIDS epidemic underscore how representation is linked to politics: the matter was scoffed and mocked as a “gay plague.” The precariousness of LGBTQ lives, already marginalized through systemic heterosexism and cissexism, was exacerbated by the misrepresentation of HIV. Thus, much of the impetus to care for LGBTQ people living with HIV came from within this community. From this, Gay Bingo accentuations intertwining histories of LGBTQ communities, HIV activism, and games.
In the early ‘90s, Judy Werle, who served as director of development for The Chicken Soup Brigade, an HIV support organization, began conceptualizing new fundraisers. As Audra Ang (1996) reports, Werle targeted Bingo halls, surveying to see what interested people about Bingo and why they played. Overall, she found the experience rather lackluster, though she identified Bingo as a function that drew in people. Thinking about her cause, she considered how such an event might look with a gay flare. In 1992, The Chicken Soup Brigade held the first Gay Bingo event hosted by The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an order of queer and trans nuns devoted to “devoted to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges, and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment.” With standing room only and a line around the corner, the event was such a success and drew in a surprising amount of straight people in addition to the expected gay audience.
Bo Ruberg argues that uncovering the intimacies between queerness and games is a rallying cry for queer subjects to reclaim the entirety of the games medium (2019, 17). Gay Bingo exemplifies this in several ways. It is more than the Bingo Werle surveyed: Bingo interpreted by The Sisters, and by Drag Queens in contemporary games, emphasizes in play the queer logics, talents, and subcultural competencies of the LGBTQ community (DeAnda, 2019). The game also provided a social space for HIV fundraising. Gay Bingo brought to bear queerness and games to support those most vulnerable in a political and social climate that marked both LGBTQ people and people living with HIV for death.
Ang, Audra. “Gay Bingo Nights Find Niche in Seattle.” LA Times, 9 June 1996, http://articles.latimes.com/1996-06-09/local/me-13232_1_gay-bingo.
DeAnda, Michael Anthony. "Gaming with Gender Performativity, Sexuality, and Community: An Interview with Sofonda Booz on Hosting Drag Bingo Events." Sexuality & Play in Media [special issue], WiderScreen, 1 no. 2 (2019). http://widerscreen.fi/numerot/2019-1-2/gaming-with-gender-performativity-sexuality-and-community-an-interview-with-sofonda-booz-on-hosting-drag-bingo-events/
Lifelong. "Love Fest Gay Bingo Gift Certificate" [digital image]. Lifelong, 2019, https://static1.squarespace.com/static/582e4337414fb5594a0cc385/t/5bfecdb7cd8366e40b15421e/1543425466552/Gay+Bingo+Gift+Certificate.pdf