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With Santa Costumes and Drag Queens, This Isn't Your Grandma's Bingo

Bingo has been a popular past time in the U.S. for decades. It may conjure images of playing with Grandma in a church hall or rows of intense players, daubers in hand, good luck trinkets in front of them, eagerly awaiting the next call.

In Pittsburgh, players can experience a slightly different bingo game – one that has been held monthly since the late 1990s – OUTrageous Bingo.

It takes place at an unlikely venue, Rodef Shalom in Oakland, and each month the place gets packed.

“In other cities they call it gay bingo or drag bingo or whatever they come up with – we came up with OUTrageous Bingo with OUT capitalized – out of the closet,” said Rick Allison, co-founder and coordinator of OUTrageous Bingo.

Allison also happens to be the bingo caller, and when he took the microphone Saturday for December’s game, he saw people in Santa outfits, someone dressed as Beaker from The Muppets and many others in festive-wear.  This month also marked an anniversary for the event.

“Sixteen years!” Allison exclaimed from the bingo box. “I might have a coming out party…” a statement that was met with laughter and playful shouts of “it’s a little late for that” from the crowd.

OUTrageous Bingo raises money for Pittsburgh’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center and Shepherd Wellness Community, a resource center for those living with HIV/AIDS. The game draws hundreds of people each month.

“It’s a wonderfully diverse group," said Shepherd Wellness Executive Director Scott Peterman. "This is an event where folks can bring their children, their parents, their coworkers. It’s an event where everybody is welcome and everybody feels comfortable.”

The all-ages crowd is indeed diverse, and people said they come for a number of reasons, though the most common is simply to have fun.

“We did come last year, a group of us ladies came last year and we enjoyed it so much we brought our husbands with us,” said player Maureen Callas.  

What sets OUTrageous Bingo apart from other games is the entertainment. During intermission the crowd is entertained by local drag queens. This particular bingo also featured what caller Rick Allison calls “legitimate entertainment” — couple Cindy Shaffer and Kathy Rizza sang a duet of “Baby it’s Cold Outside” before the games began. Intermission featured local drag queens Tasha Kahn and Paris Young Boutte dancing and lip syncing to Christmas favorites and dance songs.

The money raised is split between the GLCC and Shepherd Wellness for services such as meals, youth and seniors programs, support groups, a library, advocacy and other events.

OUTrageous Bingo is a monthly event and will continue through 2014. Even though the event often sells out, Allison says there are no plans to move to a larger venue, but each month will be more OUTrageous with more drag queen and, Allison hopes, more drag king performances.

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