Editor's Note: A paragraph in this story about drag queen bingo in Denver has been amended for clarity.
Before bingo started, the drag queen on the microphone was ready to caution the crowd about safe sex. But the woman seated front and center with a toddler — who she had brought to a drag queen bingo fundraiser for the Boulder County AIDS Project — was having none of it.
That was how the night started last November for Hayes Burton, drag queen bingo master of ceremonies. This week, when Burton hosts the event at Alfalfa’s Market once again, he will address a Boulder crowd with deep pockets but sometimes, he says, relatively closed minds.
“Everyone thinks of Boulder as this liberal hotspot, and in some ways, that’s very true. But when it comes to the gay community, there’s a distinct kind of wall that goes up,” he says.
“There are no gay events in town, no gay bar, no place for the gay community to hang out in Boulder,” adds Craig Spalding, graphic designer at Alfalfa’s Market.
So, on Wednesday, Feb. 13, Boulder’s only drag queen bingo (DQB) will take place at Alfalfa’s Market. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Boulder County AIDS Project (BCAP).
“Sponsor-driven events like these have double the benefit for a nonprofit,” says Elisa Smith, marketing and special events manager at BCAP. “They are fantastic for raising needed funds and bringing the community together.”
This will be the local grocer’s second time sponsoring the event, with the first DQB night held back in November. After the success of the first bingo, Alfalfa’s has announced plans to host the event every three months.
“It is important to all those involved that people know Alfalfa’s is doing this ... It’s Alfalfa’s wanting to help the community and turning to BCAP to ask how we can do that,” says Burton.
Perhaps that’s why the entire DQB operation is being spearheaded by Sara Bruskin, supervisor in the cheese and specialty department at Alfalfa’s.
Bruskin says that the whole idea was sparked from a conversation she had with Oliver Retzloff, whose father, Mark Retzloff, is co-owner of the store.
“It was an amusing thing to talk about,” says Bruskin, “because it seemed ridiculous and out of the ordinary for a supermarket to do.”
Bruskin says she had previously lived with two gay roommates, one transgendered roommate and one person "who just loved to look at boobs." That's when she began going to DQBs in Denver, where, at JR's for example, women in attendance sometimes flash the crowd for prizes.
“There just really isn’t anywhere in Boulder that does it,” says Bruskin. She estimates that between 60 and 70 people attended the November event.
Raunch is an inevitable part of drag queen bingo, but Alfalfa’s tried to give families a fair forewarning. Bingo didn’t start until after 8 p.m., and Alfalfa’s placed signs and fliers throughout the store well beforehand.
“It’s a sober event. So, obviously I’m not gonna get too, like, raunchy, but at the same time, just like I said at the last event, ‘I just spent the better part of three hours making sure my tits were even and taping my junk to my butt,’” Burton says. “You know, how much of a family show can it really be?”
But families still came, and the drag queen servers had to do a little self-censoring on the fly. Alfalfa’s decided to change the name of a DQB “mocktail,” made with organic chocolate milk and a dash of mint, from the “Naughty Girl Scout” to the “Girl Scout.”
Plus, Burton had planned to open the evening with a list of AIDS-prevention talking points, which were sent over from BCAP.
But the family with the toddler sitting front and center compelled him to hold off.
“I knelt down to the table and said, ‘Listen, we’re about to start a special event with Boulder County AIDS Project, and there are certain things I’m going to talk about. So, how do you feel about your daughter hearing the s-e-x word?’” Burton says.
The mother’s look alone was enough to make Burton wait until they were gone to start spouting off about safe s-e-x.
Burton played a big role as an advocate for BCAP that night, and he plans to do so well into the future of DQB.
“The HIV/AIDS awareness thing … I think as a gay man, no single thing has a stronger effect on our community,” says Burton. For Burton, both the educational aspect of DQB and the money raised for BCAP are incredibly important. A big part of his life was his time spent singing with the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus, which Burton says lost 91 members to mostly AIDS or AIDS-related illnesses during the 1980s.
“When you think about what it would have been like to be in the community at that time, watching your friends drop like flies, you know, well, it has forever changed our community. It is an irremovable part of our culture,” says Burton.
Burton says he’s impressed that Alfalfa’s has stepped forward in a city without much space designated for the gay community.
“I think for a small, family-owned business like Alfalfa’s, going up against [bigger competitors] to still vocally and you know, enthusiastically, show their support for the gay community, in a town where it’s a little taboo, is just incredibly powerful,” he says. “And it just makes me extra glad that I’m a part of this community here, even when I’m not in drag.”
Editor’s note: Abby Faires is an employee at Alfalfa’s.
Drag Queen Bingo takes place 8 p.m. Feb. 13 at Alfalfa's on Broadway and Arapahoe.