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Freedom Caucus lawmakers single out annual Laramie Drag Queen Bingo fundraiser for HIV, AIDS testing

Drag queens speak at a bingo event to raise money to support Wyomingites living with AIDS and HIV in 2022.
Wyoming AIDS Assistance
Drag queens speak at a bingo event to raise money to support Wyomingites living with AIDS and HIV in 2022.

A drag show and bingo event in Laramie has been happening annually for years. It raises money for AIDS and HIV testing in Wyoming, and to support those living with the virus.

Recently, however, it’s come under fire from far-right state legislators.

In a press release, the House Freedom Caucus said its members take issue with the state Department of Health's use of a grant to support the event. They claim taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to subsidize the fundraiser.

But the department has been providing the grant for years with minimal controversy.

Hosted by the nonprofit Wyoming AIDS Assistance, Drag Queen Bingo raises money for adults and children living with AIDS and HIV in Wyoming, where medical care is often difficult to access.

It started as an after-party event following the Wyoming AIDS Walk in 2002.

“We're looking at things that we've never had to look at before, such as security, [to] redesign the entire way check-in is set up because people are wild and unpredictable,” said Scott Cheney, a founder of the nonprofit and a performer at the event. “You know, Pulse wasn't that long ago.”

Pulse was an LGBTQ+ nightclub in Florida where a gunman killed 49 people in 2016.

Cheney said comments under recent news articles about the fundraiser have been filled with hate.

“There were comments of, ‘Haul them into the street and tar and feather them,’” he said. “That just seems like a lot of work, personally. You know, they act like we received a million dollars. The fact of the matter is we didn't. We received a small amount of money from the state that we are giving back to.”

The Department of Health’s Communicable Disease Unit approved just under $3,000 to support this year’s event using federal – not state – funding.

This year, Drag Queen Bingo sold out in less than 24 minutes, Cheney said, a record for the fundraiser.

This reporting was made possible by a grant from the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, supporting state government coverage in the state. Wyoming Public Media and Jackson Hole Community Radio are partnering to cover state issues both on air and online.

Copyright 2024 Wyoming Public Radio. To see more, visit Wyoming Public Radio.

Chris Clements