Getting ‘drag’ed along to Green Queen Bingo

by Meredith Newlin

‘“Hurry up, honey, before my legs go numb,’” a RuPaul look-alike says sweetly as a photographer hurriedly snaps a group picture. The look-alike is one of ten showstoppers commonly known as drag queens ‘— or Bingo Verifying Divas (BVDs), as this particular bunch prefers to be called ‘— who preen backstage at the lower level of the Empire Room on August 19 for what’s quickly becoming one of downtown Greensboro’s most stylish ways to spend a Friday evening: Green Queen Bingo.

The quarterly soiree is hosted and produced by The Guilford Green Foundation, which raises money for organizations like the Triad Health Project and other gay-advocate/tolerant groups. Green Queen Bingo is GGF’s top fund-raiser, and with all the entertainment, glitz, laughter, and chance at free prizes ‘— all at $15 per ticket ‘— the 500-some seats filled with laughing faces speak for themselves.

This month’s theme is ‘“Over the Rainbow,’” meaning come in your Wizard of Oz best, and the getups of the Green Queens are nothing less than heel-clicking. Getting ready for the show is an hours-long, precarious process, and it shows down to the last false eyelash. Although dressing up isn’t required, of course, several of the patrons are decked out as well, in tailed, tinned and straw-stuffed costumes relative to the 1939 film.

The Wicked Witch of the West tonight is Steven Reeves, a Tennessee native who, despite his garishly green makeup, is nonetheless stunning, easy-humored and charming; in other words, the stereotypical gay guy ‘hottie’ whose lifestyle preference any single heterosexual woman might lament.

A passerby compliments his bewitching regalia.

‘“Not for long,’” Reeves laughs back with a Southern drawl. ‘“I’ve been told there’s a bucket of water somewhere around here with my name on it.’”

Reeves looks forward to these events like a debutante waiting for her coming out.

‘“It’s the sense of camaraderie backstage,’” he declares. ‘“We have a lot of fun getting ready together. It’s fun entertaining the audience and getting a good laugh out of them.’”

All working the booths are volunteers. They run the ticket counter, serve refreshments, and Guilford Green also allows the set up of booths such as Win-Win Resolutions, Inc., Animal Foster & Rescue, and other organizations Guilford Green is considering for grants. Past recipients include the Women’s Resource Center of Greensboro, Triad Health Project, and the UNCG Wellness Center.

The night opens with a social hour at 6:30, but the bar serves only light refreshments, soft drinks and bottled water, as State Law prohibits alcoholic beverages at bingo games. People take seats at the long tables and chat with the drag queens, who float amidst the crowd as decorously as Halle Berry at the Golden Globes.

Green Queen Bingo newcomers include Ricki Gray, mother of two adult daughters and longtime teacher at Irving Park Elementary. Her husband, Sydney, is a downtown developer. ‘“Looking around here reminds me how wonderful, open and diverse Greensboro is,’” she remarks after surveying the room with a warm smile.

Kim Ketchum, in attendance with his wife Lisa, agrees. Green Queen Bingo is sponsored by local businesses such as The View on Elm, Kress Terrace, the Biltmore Greensboro Hotel, Salon ICON, the Green Bean and The Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro. Ketchum’s insurance business, Ketchum and Co., was also recruited as a sponsor of the event.

‘“We chose to be a sponsor because of the name recognition, sure, and the chance to briefly address the folks gathered, but also just to let the LGBT community know that we’re sympathetic to their cause,’” Ketchum says.

Around 7:30, the room darkens, save for whirling sparkle lights. Then a booming yet effeminate voice emanates over the microphone:

‘“Is everybody ready for’…GREEN QUEEN BINGO?’”

It’s Karla Kincaid, the head emcee.

The audience cheers and stands up to clap in rhythm to a disco version of ‘“Somewhere Over the Rainbow,’” as a calico-dressed, ruby-slippered Kincaid enters to the hoots and hollers of the delighted crowd. Except for the feather boa he sports around his neck, Kincaid is the spitting image of Dorothy Gale. Blowing bubbles, swinging a basket and prancing up and down the aisles with the other GQs in tow, Kincaid comes back to the stage and transitions to a few of the Bingo rules, most important of which seems to be that if you do get Bingo, for heaven’s sake, yell!

The Green Queen hostesses station themselves throughout the room to resume mingling. Then, faster than a sweep of blue glitter eye shadow, the 10-game rounds are in full swing, punctuated by the whoops of winners, cash prize collections and performances by the GQs, including a duet by Glenda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West.

Guilford Green hosts four Bingo games per year and this one is lucky number seven. Last June’s theme was ‘“Disco Fever’” and February’s was ‘“Mardi Gras.’” This year’s final event, to be held November 11 at the same Empire Room location, will be ‘“Holiday Hoedown.’” With some $20,000 raised just in the past year, each Green Queen Bingo seems to top the success of the previous event.

‘“We try to pick the themes early so they [the drag queens] can start getting their costumes together,’” explains event chair Tim Rains, who has been with Guilford Green seven years and is its former treasurer. He estimates the diverse crowd at 50 percent straight and the other half gay.

‘“It provides an inexpensive way for the community to come together ‘— whether gay, straight, black’…,’” explains Rains. Greeting guests with a smile and handshake, he seems to shrug at the word ‘“challenges,’” which he cites mainly as ensuring that the drag queens are happy and keeping everything on track.

‘“The most rewarding part of all this is seeing all of the different parts of the community united,’” says Rains, ‘“and especially seeing how much the gay community is supported.’”

The flourishes one might anticipate at a typical drag show seem absent at Green Queen Bingo: the humor is more mischievous than offensive; the mood more empowering than inane. And the GQs keep doing their thing, with a radiance that seems to permeate their every sequin. This is their night to shine, and their comfort in their own skin might leave some to wonder just what it’s like to walk a mile in their pumps, perhaps even musing to themselves: ‘“If Green Queens fly over the rainbow, why, oh why, can’t I?’”

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