Church group: Drag queen bingo encourages fondling, groping
Mt. Pleasant Volunteer Fire Department won’t host another drag queen bingo, but it’s not because of the drag, Chief Jerry Lucia said.
“We didn’t have the large crowd we thought, and then we had bingo players come here thinking they’d be playing bingo all night,” Lucia said. “They only played like eight games.”
Still, the event raised almost $7,000, he said. For Sparkling Queens of Drag, a group that performs across the Mon Valley, a typical night will bring in between $5,000 and $30,000, founder Jeffrey Kaczynski said.
Several fire departments and local organizations have or will soon host drag queen bingos as fundraisers. In March, a group of pastors from Christians Uniting, a group of Christian churches and pastors in the Norvelt, Pleasant Unity area, sent letters to Mt. Pleasant area fire departments warning them about holding such events.
“Our concern is with those fire companies that have chosen to host events called Drag Queen Bingo,” part of the letter reads. “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.”
The concern, the letter explains, is how those actions could be perceived in the #MeToo movement, which was founded in 2006 as a grassroots effort to help survivors of sexual violence.
The impact of #MeToo exploded over the past two years as women shared their experiences of being sexually assaulted and as allegations of sexual improprieties were made against high-profile men — including Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, former CBS chairman Les Moonves, television journalists Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose, later-confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, celebrity chef Mario Batali, public radio host Garrison Keillor and now-former U.S. Sen. Al Franken, among scores of others.
“The pastors and congregations of Christians Uniting are very supportive of our fire companies,” said the Rev. Mark Werner, former president of Christians Uniting. “Such service includes serving as volunteer firefighters, assisting with Lenten fish frys, hoagie sales, fill the boot, etc. The last thing we wanted to see happen to any of the area fire companies would be to see them sued by someone who may be the victim of unwanted advances such as the groping we saw in the pictures.”
At Sparkling Queens of Drag, however, rules are read at the beginning of each bingo to advise that groping is not appropriate from performers.
“It does hurt,” Kaczynski said. “It really does. I’ve been doing drag for almost 10 years now, and so far this year we’ve raised $182,000 for local organizations and fire departments. It’s our way of giving back to the community.”
The letters have not hurt his business, the Connellsville native said, adding that fire departments who have used the group have shown their support for the fundraiser and have booked them for future events.
At the Calumet Volunteer Fire Department, which has a July 20 drag queen bingo fundraiser hosted by the group, the event has been a hit in the past.
“We had nothing but positive reviews about the whole entire thing, and all the surrounding stations who have had the event as well; it’s all been positive,” said Courtney Warren, who said her boyfriend is a captain at the station.
Warren, of Latrobe, said she is not worried about the upcoming fundraiser, adding that there have been no sexual allegations in the past and that they always have positive reviews.
“The main thing is a lot of the people are saying it’s happening to minors and things like that when it states clearly on the ticket how old you have to be,” she said. “It says 18. At that age, you’re to be an adult.”
Lucia said his drag queen bingo event didn’t have any reported issues either.
“Nothing’s going to stop us,” Kaczynski said. “We’re going to continue doing what we love to do.”
The Rev. David Greer, Christians Uniting president, said the letter was never meant to go public. Instead, it was a private warning “cautioning our local heroes of some potential pitfalls hosting these Drag Queen Bingo games,” he said. “It was never our intention to bring awareness to these Drag Queen Bingo games nor to condemn volunteer organizations for hosting said games.”
Greer said he spoke with two local fire chiefs before the letters were sent, but said he was not sure if those chiefs met with drag queen bingo organizations. He added recent drag queen bingos at those stations were toned down.
Greer said Christians Uniting, which hosts after-school programs for children, senior dinners and joint services during Lent, does not have any further comments or actions regarding drag queen bingos.
“We had our say, and now we move on. We must be about our Father’s business,” he said.
Werner agreed, saying Christians Uniting does not harbor ill will toward anyone.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .