For the past 25 years, Rick Allison has kicked off OUTrageous Bingo with a pledge.
“I have everyone stand up, hold up their daubers and recite this pledge with me: I promise to remember that this is only bingo. I promise to remember that we’re here to raise money for the Pittsburgh Equality Center and Shepherd Wellness Community. I promise to remember not to get tense. And I promise to remember that this is only a stupid game and we’re here to have fun,” said Allison. “Then I tell everyone to sit down, shut up and play bingo!”
Allison is the brainchild behind Pittsburgh’s OUTrageous Bingo tradition. “A friend of mine went to Seattle and attended a gay bingo event and came back and told me about it,” said Allison, who had experience running bingo events with his hometown recreation board.
Allison spearheaded the start of OUTrageous Bingo by creating a fundraising event in partnership with the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force (now Allies for Health + Wellbeing) and Shepherd Wellness Community.
“We formed a committee and decided to keep the events alcohol- and smoke-free to create a safe place to bring family members and let them see the LGBTQ community in motion and see that we’re no different than anyone else,” said Allison. Soon after, PATF was replaced by The PGH Equality Center (f/k/a the Gay and Lesbian Community Center) as a partner.
A success from the very first night, OUTrageous Bingo just celebrated its 25th anniversary, and fun continues to be the focus of every event. “We do have a great time and people love it when they come,” said Richard Krug, executive director of Shepherd Wellness Community. “We play several types of games with one of the most popular being the 50/50 where people buy a set of tickets and winnings are split 50/50 between the nonprofit sponsors and the player.”
The bingo games aren’t the only fun factor at these events. Entertainers often steal the show. “Drag queens and kings entertain during our intermissions; the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence regularly appear—they are basically drag queens dressed as nuns!” laughed Krug. “We also have other performers attend now and then. The fantastic jazz artist Phat Man Dee sang for us a couple of times. And we had the Pittsburgh Pierogies attend and dance throughout the room as we played the Pennsylvania Polka in the background—that was a crowd favorite.”
Tickets are purchased online for the volunteer-run event, and proceeds from ticket sales benefit the Shepherd Wellness Community and the PGH Equality Center equally. Founded in 1987, Shepherd Wellness Community serves as a gathering place and resource center for people with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones by providing nourishing meals along with health education programs, peer support, socialization and wellness classes. With a vision of cultivating a more collaborative, diverse, just, and empowered community, the PGH Equality Center’s mission is to serve as a bridge for all LGBTQIA+ people and allies in western Pennsylvania by promoting advocacy, education and social justice for all.
OUTrageous Bingo events also assist with other fundraisers. “We help the Three Rivers Leather Club with their annual toy drive each December by having our members bring toys to our events,” explained Krug. “We also spearheaded a special collection in support of LGBTQ communities in Ukraine.”
The support of OUTrageous Bingo reaches far beyond the LGTBQ community. When the group needed a new home for its events, the rabbi at Rodef Shalom offered his congregation’s location. The congregation handles the concessions for each OUTrageous Bingo event with proceeds going to their school.
The event attracts attendees of all kinds. “OUTrageous Bingo has become a favorite event for bachelorette parties,” said Krug. “We also had a group of sorority sisters who graduated about 30 years ago attend, complete with tiaras and feather boas.”
Although Allison remains one of the callers for each OUTrageous Bingo event, he’s also welcomed guest callers from time to time. “At one event, the then-mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio joined Pittsburgh’s then-mayor, Bill Peduto, as callers,” he said.
Volunteers working with OUTrageous Bingo truly believe in its benefits and embrace the fun that accompanies every event. “For me, OUTrageous Bingo is a fun night for a great cause,” said Krug.
Allison agreed. “I believe OUTrageous Bingo is a safe place to bring your family and friends to have an outrageous time, win some money and to support Shepherd Wellness Community and the PGH Equality Center,” he added.
If you’re interested in attending OUTrageous Bingo, visit https://outrageousbingopgh.org for upcoming event information.