Calumet VFD cancels drag queen bingo after low ticket sales, warnings from churches
A popular fundraiser at the Calumet Volunteer Fire Department that could have raised almost $8,000 has been canceled, leaving officials scrambling to find funds needed to repair and replace trucks and provide training to firefighters, said department secretary Robin Obarto.
The Sparkling Queens of Drag, a group that performs drag queen bingo shows across the Mon Valley, was slated to host a July 20 event at the Mt. Pleasant fire department. But when only 60 tickets sold out of 300 made available, the department was forced to cancel.
The decision to cancel came shortly after a group of pastors from Christians Uniting, a group of churches and pastors in the Norvelt, Pleasant Unity area, sent letters to Mt. Pleasant area fire departments warning them about holding such events.
Part of the letter sent in March reads, “Our concern is with those fire companies that have chosen to host events called Drag Queen Bingo. This event encourages the touching, fondling and groping of patrons by individuals dressed in drag. Women and men may feel pressured to accept these advances in the moment.”
At the time the letters were sent, people involved in planning the Calumet drag queen bingo event said past events brought in positive reviews and that they weren’t concerned about their upcoming event.
Now, Obarto said, department officials are trying to stay positive about the canceled event, saying low ticket sales could have been caused by vacation season other events scheduled that night.
“We were counting on this money to help keep us operational and to pay for some much-needed truck repairs,” Obarto said, adding the department is remodeling a small room where firefighters can relax after difficult calls.
“It hit us really hard,” she said. “We made over $8,000 clear on our event in March and we thought, ‘This was great, let’s do it again.’”
Obarto started a GoFundMe page Tuesday that reads, “The Calumet Volunteer Fire Department is in need of your help. We recently had to cancel a profitable fundraiser due to circumstances out of our control. The money raised was to be used to ensure our department will remain ready at a moment’s notice to protect our community, family and friends.
“All monies raised will go directly to our department for building maintenance and much-needed truck repairs, as well as our day-to-day operational costs.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, $110 out of their $15,000 goal has been raised.
Obarto acknowledged the church’s role in the cancellation of the event, saying, “The churches are entitled to their opinion, I just wish they would have done it a little bit differently.
“I think if any of the area churches had an issue with these events being held … they could have reached out and said, ‘We’re having a little bit of trouble with this, let’s talk.’”
She added that fire departments who had never hosted a drag queen bingo, and who did not plan to, also received the letter, which she said was unfair.
Still, comments Obarto said were made on Facebook suggesting the department should not respond to calls for service at the churches were unnecessary.
Obarto responded, “We’re not asking anyone to go against their faith, to turn against their churches, but we don’t want anyone to turn on us either … Help us help you. But we need the support of the community.”
Jeffrey Kacyznski, founder of the Sparkling Queens of Drag, said the cancellation really got to him, adding, “I was a little heartbroken.”
The Sparkling Queens of Drag hosts several fundraisers in the area, raising between $5,000 and $30,000 on a typical night, he said.
Obarto said the one good thing that came out of the situation was the friendships made from performers in Kacyznski’s group.
“They have gone above and beyond to support us,” she said. “Jeffrey would post four to five times a day on his Facebook page,” and reached out to his family and friends to try and sell tickets.
“The ladies and gentleman we use are very high class,” Obarto said. “They make that announcement before every show, ‘We do not believe in touching, groping, anything,’ even before this came to a head.”
A few miles away in South Huntingdon Township, Turkeytown Volunteer Fire Department is hosting the Sparkling Queens of Drag Saturday. Kacyznski said there are still some tickets for sale for the 7 p.m. event.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .