B-I-N-G-whoa! Drag queen bingo helps raise charity cash
MONESSEN, Pa. (AP) — Under the fluorescent lights of the Monessen Fire Department Social Hall, Jason Zubovic’s bright orange shawl and high, curly wig rivet the eye.
Add to that a floor-length gown, oversized jewelry and full makeup, and the 6-foot-4-inch tall man in heels, going by the name Miss Thea Trix, is a striking Roman candle of a man in drag.
The 44-year-old Fayette County native was just kicking off the season for drag queen bingo, an event that raises money for different fundraisers and organizations.
Miss Thea’s Drag Queen Bingo, started in 2016, raises thousands of dollars each year for groups such as Relay for Life, animal rescue leagues, school programs and independent funds for people who need surgery.
Last year, the group of five glitter-and-glam drag queens raised almost $500,000 for charity.
Ready to raise money for local schools, scholarships and community projects on behalf of the Monessen Rostraver Rotary Club, members of the group with Miss Thea were nestled into a back room of the social hall, applying makeup and jewelry, tucking foam pads into pantyhose to create curves and positioning wigs just right, a task that can take hours.
Finally stepping out to Kelly Clarkson’s “Heartbeat Song,” Zubovic asked his normal question to the crowd — “Who’s here for bingo and who’s here for the drag queens?”
The crowd, filled with middle-aged people, cheered for drag queens.
But the most important statement, Zubovic said, comes after.
“If there’s any hate in the house, please get out,” he told the crowd.
″ ’Cause we don’t have that,” he said. “Never experienced it here. I mean, I know many people do. A lot of times, I think it’s my size. I mean, once I have my heels and everything on, it’s kind of overwhelming.”
A former Newell resident, Zubovic was introduced to drag shows while studying at Duquesne University.
“A girlfriend of mine actually took me to a bar that used to be called Pegasus,” he said. “Saw the show, I was pretty naïve, and said to her, ‘All the girls were fabulous.’ She said, ‘They weren’t girls.’ I said, ‘What?’
“That was like 23 years ago,” he said. “I got all kind of makeup books, all kind of hair books, and created Miss Thea.”
But Miss Thea’s Drag Queen Bingo wasn’t the first in the area.
Started in 1998 by Rick Allison and Alan Jones, OUTrageous Bingo! in Oakland raises money for Shepherd Wellness Center, an AIDS community center, and the Pittsburgh Equality Center, formerly known as the LGBTQ Community Center.
“In the beginning, it was mostly about the LGBT community,” said Ed Motznik, who’s worked with the fundraiser for 18 years. “It was a fundraiser, but it was also nondrinking, nonsmoking and nonbar focused.”
At the time, most events in the community centered around gay bars, he said. As one of the first drag queen bingos in the area, OUTrageous Bingo! was started as a way to create a different space for the community.
What the founders didn’t realize at the time, Motznik said, was how the event would help to spread acceptance, with only about half of the attendees part of the LGBT community today.
“I think people came to bingo and they interacted with gay people, and they may have never interacted with any gay people before,” Motznik said. “Most of the volunteers are gay, a lot of players are gay, so there’s a whole big mix. And I think that, over the years, that really helped people understand we’re like everyone else.”
But for Zubovic, who started at OUTrageous Bingo!, bringing drag queens to rural Westmoreland County was nerve-wracking.
After a successful event in Perryopolis, Zubovic took his drag persona and turned it into a business, realizing not many people in the Mon Valley would come out for a drag show. Incorporating bingo, a popular fundraiser, has allowed him to reach a more mainstream audience, he said.
“They’re able to accept us for what we are,” he said. “In today’s society, with everything that’s going on, it’s really nice. And especially out here in the country.”
Now, working almost every weekend to sold-out shows, the group is passionate about hosting a successful fundraiser, donating any tips to the cause.
And, typically, the crowd goes wild, waving dollar bills for the performers to interact with a certain person in the crowd.
“When you first go out there, you almost have to train the crowd because a lot of times they’re older folks,” Zubovic said, laughing. “The very first person we lap dance (the crowd’s) like, ‘. We can do that?’ ”
Information from: Tribune-Review, http://triblive.com