Wyoming Department Of Health Gives $3,000 For Annual Drag Show; Freedom Caucus Livid

The Wyoming Department of Health has pledged $3,000 to help throw a drag queen bingo event in Laramie later this month. The Wyoming Freedom Caucus said taxpayers should not be funding a "perverted and scandalous event."

Clair McFarland

April 11, 20244 min read

The Stilettos is a Laramie, Wyoming-based drag queen group that helps put on the annual Drag Queen Bingo event.
The Stilettos is a Laramie, Wyoming-based drag queen group that helps put on the annual Drag Queen Bingo event. (Via Facebook)

The Wyoming Department of Health has approved about $3,000 in public money to help throw an annual drag queen bingo party in Laramie as an anti-AIDS fundraiser.

“Reminder, this show is Rated ‘R’ – REALLY not for kids!” says the webpage of Wyoming AIDS Assistance, a nonprofit group putting on the drag queen bingo night April 27. “Complete with salty language, dirty jokes and booze-a-plenty, parental discretion is strongly advised!”

Money raised from the event is to benefit people living in Wyoming with HIV/AIDS, according to the group’s website.

Some online banners advertising the event list the Wyoming Department of Health, a tax-funded state entity, as a sponsor.

“While we wouldn’t necessarily agree with the description of the department’s grant support as sponsorship, it is true a small amount of federal grant funding has been approved by program staff to support the event’s planned disease prevention activities,” Kim Deti, WDH spokeswoman, told Cowboy State Daily in a Wednesday email.

Wyoming AIDS Assistance says it is offering free rapid HIV testing before the event.

The nonprofit group did not respond to a Cowboy State Daily email requesting comment.

Deti said the group helps Wyomingites living with HIV to cover medical, dental, vision, mental health, housing and other costs, and said WDH’s goal of preventing sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, is “supported via outreach to many groups of people.”

The group has clearly labeled the event as an adult-only event and is requiring attendees to buy tickets, Deti noted.

“Program staff do regularly participate in such events as part of their outreach strategy,” Deti said.

WDH’s Communicable Disease Program has approved about $3,000 from federal mini-grants to support this year’s drag queen bingo.

And In Prior Years

Excluding this year’s pledged grant, WDH has given a total of $6,430.05 to Wyoming AIDS assistance since Feb. 3, 2020, in lumps ranging from $1,095.05 to $2,334.

These grants were for “similar support of this event in past years,” said Deti, adding that to WDH, it’s about preventing disease. “The focus for our department each year has been on the disease prevention and testing efforts included during the event.”

Funding ‘Escapades’

The Wyoming Freedom Caucus, a group of socially conservative Republicans serving in the state Legislature, dispatched a statement Wednesday condemning WDH’s funding of the event and questioning whether helping to throw drag events is the role of government.

“Taxpayers should not be expected to fund the escapades of ‘boozed up cowfolk’ at ‘R-rated’ drag shows,” says the statement, quoting from the Wyoming AIDS Assistance group’s webpage. The caucus called the event perverted and scandalous, and said publicly-funded AIDS prevention efforts should go instead toward "evidence-based strategies."

"This careless use of taxpayer dollars is an insult to those who have suffered and lost their lives to this deadly and serious disease," says the statement.

The caucus called upon Gov. Mark Gordon and WDH Director Stefan Johansson to “sever all ties with sexually explicit events.”

Gordon did not respond by publication time to a Wednesday email sent to his spokesman.

‘Creating Division And Anger’

A state House delegate who represents Laramie, where the event is being held, said the Freedom Caucus’ ire is misdirected.

“Instead of working toward solutions for communities struggling with getting treatment, the Freedom Caucus is focused on creating division and anger,” said Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, in a Thursday text to Cowboy State Daily. “They could be trying to help folks get affordable access to health care instead of trying to create conflict by bashing the very people working hard to solve a problem in our state.”

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter