AIDS Fund’s monthly GayBINGO event will honor community contributions in a more formal setting this month with the 18th-annual Black-Tie GayBINGO! The March 25 event will feature cocktails, dinner, six bingo games, a silent auction and entertainment from hosts and drag performers the Bingo Verifying Divas.
This year, four individuals will receive awards for their contributions to the HIV/AIDS community in three separate categories:
- Favorite Straight Person of the Year: Jeffrey Holder
- Founders’ Award: Michael “Cherry Pop” Tambon and Brandon Robert Barlieb
- Ferrara Family Volunteer Award: A. Tyler Lynch
AIDS Fund Executive Director Robb Reichard said each year the honorees “rise to the top.”
“It was really clear this year who we were going to honor with each of the awards,” Reichard said.
AIDS Fund will honor Holder for his volunteer work with the organization. Holder helped recruit volunteers, increase funds and took photos of previous events. Notably, Holder captured a series of portraits for the 30th AIDS Walk Philly in which he highlighted individuals who supported the walk over the years.
The Favorite Straight Person of the Year said he grew up in an “open and inclusive” environment and noted having a gay roommate at one point.
“I got to see firsthand the pain, the suffering, the mental anguish that they had to manage while going about their daily lives in a way that woke me to the travesty on a particular level,” Holder said.
He added the former roommate stopped being in contact with him and others in their immediate circle of friends after learning he was HIV-positive. While Holder said this situation impacted him, it is not the only reason he supports the LGBT community.
“I have a moral obligation as a human to stand up and hold the microphone and that’s what I can do,” Holder said.
Barlieb and Tambon, whose award is in memory of the founders of AIDS Fund and AIDS Walk Philly, are the creators of “Code Red: Breaking the Silence,” a drag show that raises awareness for HIV/AIDS.
“To now be honored by an organization of which we think so highly makes us feel like we are doing something right,” Tambon said in a statement. “It’s such a privilege to be in the same category as so many other amazing individuals who have received the Founders’ Award in the past.”
Barlieb said the show typically allows HIV-positive audience members to get up on stage in a sign of unity with Tambon, who is also HIV-positive and performs in drag as Cherry Pop. He noted a friend he’d known for years went up on stage with Cherry Pop. Barlieb did not know his friend was HIV-positive until that night.
“He came up to me after the show and he was in tears,” Barlieb said. “He said, ‘I’ve been so depressed and so upset. I didn’t know what to do and getting up on that stage tonight, it was like the world was lifted off my shoulders and I feel so much more empowered.’”
Barlieb said the experience made him realize why he and Tambon produced the show in the first place.
AIDS Fund will honor Lynch for revamping the ticketing system for GayBINGO! Previously, AIDS Fund processed tickets manually but Lynch decided to take his unused vacation time from his job at a health-care software company to create an e-commerce site through which attendees could purchase tickets online. These efforts saved AIDS Fund staff 40-50 hours a month to concentrate on other initiatives.
“As an HIV-positive man, and seeing people who are falling through the cracks where there isn’t funding available, it’s disheartening,” Lynch said of his personal connection to the AIDS Fund.
Lynch said the recognition came as a “huge shock” to him because of the large number of volunteers who coordinate other efforts within AIDS Fund. He added he plans to recruit more volunteers for the organization’s efforts, noting it has few full-time staff members and requires volunteers for tasks ranging from stuffing envelopes to taking tickets.
“They need volunteers all the time and I don’t think people understand that the AIDS Fund is built on volunteering,” Lynch said. “For all of the work that they do, all of the events that they put on, they really rely on volunteers to make that possible.”
Reichard said this is “the most fun black-tie event in the city without a doubt” but noted the event is black-tie-optional.
“We take a moment to recognize people who have done incredible work [but] it’s not a night of speeches,” Reichard said. “It’s a night of fun. It’s bingo. It’s great food. People have fun with [the Bingo Verifying Divas] at regular bingo; imagine how much fun they have when they are out on the dance floor with the Bingo Verifying Divas. It’s a lot of fun and it’s supporting a good cause.”
AIDS Fund’s 18th Annual Black-Tie GayBINGO will be held 6:30 p.m. March 25 in the Regency Ballroom at the Loews Hotel, 1200 Market St. Visit aidsfundphilly.org/events/btgaybingo for more information and to purchase tickets.