Tuesday, December 18, 2007
County Tries To Stop Drag-Queen Bingo
From the Sarasota Herald Tribune:
SARASOTA - They want to see what all the hype is about.
But the 150 people who reserved a seat at tonight's drag queen bingo might not get a chance to see the drag queens call the first bingo number.
On Thursday, city officials sent Canvas Cafe owner Louis Schultz a letter warning that the upcoming bingo night cannot go on because Schultz does not have a bingo license.
The letter orders Schultz to obtain a license, a process that can take up to a month, before he holds another bingo night.
"I don't think we should be allowing it to continue if they don't have the required license," said City Attorney Robert Fournier. "There are solutions that can be worked out there. They just have to adhere to the code requirements."
What started as one resident's complaint against loud noise and profane language at the bingo night has turned into a whirlwind in this quiet, laid-back neighborhood two blocks south of Main Street.
Neighbors who were on the sidelines are now speaking out against the noise and language, saying they do not want their children hearing it.
As neighbors protest the bingo night, a wave of Sarasotans are voicing support for the risque game.
And Schultz said the show will go on. Schultz said he was out of town for the weekend and had not received the letter.
Schultz plans to tell city commissioners his side of the story at a meeting this afternoon, a few hours before the game is scheduled to begin.
Like some other area residents, Bobby and Stacy Fletcher chose to live near Towles Court because they like the artsy, creative vibe. On the streets bordering the small artists' oasis, residents know just about everything that is going on in the neighborhood.
Some say they do not mind a little live jazz or sounds drifting north from downtown on the weekend, but do not think drag queens strutting around a cafe patio and yelling off-color jokes belong in the neighborhood.
The Fletchers, who live several houses south of Canvas, are just now getting involved in the dispute. Last Monday, Bobby Fletcher called Schultz and said the loud noise was keeping his three children awake.
The couple's request is a simple one. They want the owner to turn down the volume and the drag queens to stop using profanity.
"We expect some character here," Stacy Fletcher said about living downtown, "but not something our children will take to school and get in trouble by the principal."
The feud began when Skip Dyrda, who lives in a house 20 feet away from the cafe with his wife and 7-year-old daughter, called police three times and began writing e-mails to commissioners about the loud noise and cursing.
Dyrda still does not think Schultz will listen. Two city commissioners say the city should get involved.
Schultz said he is not breaking any laws, and plans to take a stand.
He defends the bingo night event as a way to get people to Towles Court. Schultz also said he told the drag queens to stop using megaphones, which amplified their off-color jokes to houses more than a block away.
XuXu (pronounced shoo-shoo) Fontana, the drag-queen master of ceremonies at the Canvas event, said he gets people to laugh by "saying things people think but won't say."
His goal is to entertain -- not offend. And Fontana said he has never seen anyone walk away from the cafe because of one of his jokes.
Fontana expected some negative attention, but he never guessed bingo night would make an appearance on CNN.
"To me, it's mind-boggling," Fontana said. "There are mud slides, a war and a presidential campaign going on, and drag queen bingo is a problem."
Betty Madden, 76, is one of many whose curiosity was sparked by recent media reports. She stopped at the Canvas Cafe on Thursday afternoon to reserve a table for tonight's bingo.
"We want to get a group of girls together and rent a limo," Madden said.
Madden and Pat Aylmer, also 76, will have to postpone their girls' night out until next month because the cafe is completely booked for today.
Schultz said he decided last spring to bring the drag queen bingo, which got its start in the early 1990s in Seattle as a fundraising idea, to Canvas Cafe on South Links Avenue. The event benefits the Community AIDS Network.
For $10, patrons get four bingo cards and a night of colorful jokes and ribbing from three drag queens as they call the numbers.
"The people come to see them be outrageous," Schultz said. "They're not here to see Mary Poppins, although it would be funny if there was a guy being Mary Poppins in drag."
Matt Orr, one of the founders of the Young Professionals Group, is a regular at bingo night. He reserved a table for 20 at the last event.
"We have worked really hard for years to create a downtown that everyone wants to be a part of," Orr said. "Now that we have achieved that, we can't handpick which kind of noise we hear."