Robert Murray lives up to his Volunteer of the Year title from AIDS Fund. He plans to spend the majority of next Saturday setting up the 17th-annual Black Tie GayBINGO event, and making sure it runs smoothly.
Then Murray, who has volunteered with the organization’s GayBINGO and AIDS Walk for nearly five years, will receive the 2016 Ferrera Family Volunteer Award. He said he didn’t want to miss an opportunity to work with the many dedicated volunteers on this year’s event.
“It’s fun,” said Murray, who has also performed in drag at past GayBINGOs.
Black Tie GayBINGO takes place at 6:30 p.m. March 19 in Millennium Hall at Loews Philadelphia Hotel, 1200 Market St. Because the hotel has art-deco architecture, the event boasts a “Great Gatsby” theme, said Robb Reichard, executive director of AIDS Fund. A half-dozen BINGO Verifying Divas (BVDs), will perform a choreographed opening number, and Carlotta Ttendant will emcee the evening.
Tickets cost $175 and the money benefits grants that AIDS Fund makes to more than 30 regional organizations that provide direct care, education and prevention programs to people living with HIV or those at risk of contracting it.
Murray said the fun he had at GayBINGO drew him to AIDS Fund in the first place, but the organization’s mission hits home for him as well. One of his friends died from AIDS-related complications.
“It’s a demographic that’s only really been seen in a negative light,” Murray said. “There’s so much stigma surrounding it.
“Had my friend not been so scared to tell his family and friends, he could’ve gone out and gotten treatment and he’d still be here.”
The 2016 Founders Award for a person or group that fights HIV/AIDS in a unique way goes to the cofounders of The Woods Campground in Carbon County: Patrick Gremling, Scott Heffelfinger and John Adam Parr.
Gremling said the campground started collecting new toys and cash donations for AIDS Fund at its Christmas in July event four years ago. The campground has since added a Santa Trot, a bar-crawl event with stops at several campsites, with participants fundraising for AIDS Fund.
“One of the things I feel is important to our success is to give back to the community,” Gremling said. “Obviously, being an LGBT business, a lot of our ideas went to helping people and families with AIDS. Our community overall has been affected so much by AIDS.”
More than 400 toys and $3,400 have been donated to the fund through the campground tradition, Reichard said.
The 2016 Favorite Straight Person Award goes to Judith Porter, who worked on AIDS education in welfare offices, street outreach about HIV/AIDS with Congreso and needle-exchange programs with Prevention Point. A retired sociology professor from Bryn Mawr College, Porter now serves on the Mayor’s Executive Commission on Drugs and Alcohol in Philadelphia. Her work has focused on preventing HIV infection among drug injectors and connecting people to resources.
“Needle exchange is a form of harm-reduction,” Porter said. “For many people, you can’t take that big step of saying, ‘You’re going to get clean tomorrow.’ If people start taking care of themselves in small ways, then they may feel encouraged to take a bigger step and a bigger step.”
Porter said she assisted with outdoor needle exchanges, which Prevention Point used to run out of a van. She also visited “shooting galleries,” indoor locations where people injected heroin. Porter would also hand out condoms while sharing information about HIV/AIDS.
“I’m really thrilled with the people we’re recognizing,” said Reichard of AIDS Fund, adding Black Tie guests will also enjoy six games of BINGO, dinner and dancing.
“It’s one of the most fun fundraising events in the city,” he said. “When the BVDs are out on the dance floor with our players, people are really having a lot of fun, and I love to see that.”