It's outrageous. It's funny. It's deadly serious. It's GAY BINGO, a fascinating portrait of the monthly bingo game that has become the premiere AIDS fundraising event in the Philadelphia region.

GAY BINGO follows one year in the life of the event through the eyes of 11 people, each of whom has been touched by AIDS in some way. "GAY BINGO is a moving and humorous look at America's favorite game," says producer Glenn Holsten, "but it's also a story about the resilience of the human spirit. All kinds of people come together for a night to play together, to laugh together, to celebrate life."
The Gay Bingo game debuted in Philadelphia in 1996 as a fundraiser for The AIDS Fund, which benefits more than 40 AIDS service organizations in the region. To date, the games have raised more than half a million dollars.
Once a month, this sell-out event at the Gershman Y fuses politics and human drama with sequins and roller blades. GAY BINGO merges the event's nine-month season into one composite evening. The program introduces players, "Bingo Verifying Divas" (BVDs), sponsors, mothers, fathers, AIDS activists and people coming into contact with the gay community for the first time. The program captures the campy humor that prompts some cross-dressing game hosts to scour thrift shops to find just the right pair of shoes. At the same time, GAY BINGO witnesses poignant moments as a family that lost a member to AIDS take the stage to call a game in his honor. "Instead of trying to be sad and remember this moment, we decided to celebrate with a lot of people who would be supportive and loving-- the crowd here tonight," says Rhea Carl-Sutton, recalling her brother, Frank. "Gay Bingo is the perfect way to celebrate his life."

Gay Bingo earns money for The AIDS Fund through admission ticket sales, and games typically sell out in 15 minutes. Additional funds are raised through sponsorships. The Gay Bingo craze began in Seattle, and additional games are springing up in Boston, Washington, DC, Atlanta and Pittsburgh. Proceeds fund direct care services for people living with AIDS or HIV, education for people at risk and prevention programs.

GAY BINGO captures the spirit of the diverse group of people that turn out each month to find fun, friendship and fulfillment. The program weaves together the amusing traditions of the game (everyone must stand whenever "O-69" is called) with real-life stories of dedicated AIDS fundraisers, educators and survivors. Among the many participants viewers will meet are:
Chumley Singer, the host, who comes up with monthly themes, builds appropriate stage sets to match and navigates the game's emotional current from sadness to hilarity.

"Carlota Ttendent," a hostess, who by day, is Micheal Byrne, an employee of Action AIDS.

The BVDs, "Penny Nickels" and "Ida Slapter," drag queens on inline skates, who draw fans with their breathtaking gowns and monumental hair.

Volunteers Immy and Phil Ferrara, whose son, Philip, died of AIDS four years ago, who handle the finances for the event. Immy is founder of the support group, A Mother's Pledge.

Steven Burch, who comes to bingo with his coworkers from the AIDS Coalition of Southern NJ. Since being diagnosed with full-blown AIDS in 1994, he has devoted his life to educating young people to protect themselves against HIV and AIDS.

Chauncey Sullivan, a hard-core bingo fan, who prepares a fried chicken picnic to bring to the monthly event.

GAY BINGO salutes Paul Corson, one of the first pharmacists in Philadelphia to actively support AIDS patients in the 1980s. "I sensed something was happening that was very profound in the health community," he recalls. "I made the decision to do anything in my power to help the AIDS community."

GAY BINGO is produced and directed by Glenn Holsten with associate producer Emily Topper. The program is made possible by Eastern Educational Network, Pennsylvania Public Television Network and members of WHYY.