Food, fun and performance made last Thursday’s Safe Zone drag bingo at Tropical Liqueurs in St. Louis a good time.
The event was hosted by SIUE Safe Zone, an organization that helps to make members of the LGBTQ+ community feel more welcome on campus and educate people about the community. It is part of a regular schedule of events that the organization puts on to raise money for their Safe Zone scholarship, which is given out to students who participate in activism within the LGBTQ+ community. The bingo event raised a total of $1,670 for the scholarship.
The organization worked with local drag queen Desiré Declyne to help put it on and provide guests with an opportunity to be introduced to the drag community.
Declyne said she felt that events like these introduce something to younger people that she herself didn’t get to experience until later on in life, along with the theme of bringing different people together.
Nick Niemerg, co-chair of Safe Zone and president of the Queer Faculty and Staff Association, said bingo has been something they’ve done numerous times with Declyne and held an event at the same venue a year before.
Niemerg said he’s grateful to get to be a part of a community like the one that surrounds Safe Zone and how inclusive SIUE as a whole has become. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community himself, he said his primary mission is to make sure SIUE keeps progressing as an accepting place to work.
“I really value a workplace that values me and I think SIUE does a great job at being inclusive,” Niemerg said.
For events like these, Declyne puts on elaborate performances that are planned well in advance, with outfits and makeup that she said takes up to two and a half hours to get ready.
After performing for 16 years and doing bingo events for 10 years, Declyne said she finds it easier to embrace the character of Desiré Declyne as the makeup goes on.
Declyne said she felt that the bingo night helped to symbolize a place of belonging that Safe Zone provides and the lives it can save.
Mitchell Haas, another co-chair of Safe Zone, said he got involved with Safe Zone around two years ago and became a co-chair around a year and a half ago after joining the staff at SIUE in 2019.
Haas said he himself struggled with issues of self-acceptance throughout his early life until he came out as pansexual and nonbinary, and is involved with Safe Zone to help people feel like they have a safe environment on campus where they can be themselves.
“I grew up in this area, which is socially conservative, so I grew up questioning my gender identity and questioning my sexuality,” Haas said. “My personal interest is to create that safe space that I felt like I never had for students and faculty and staff on this campus.”
Haas said his time as a student was never negative, but that his goal with Safe Zone is to make sure students, staff and faculty are all aware that they are accepted and to educate others on issues that the community faces.
“I was a student at SIUE 10 or 15 years ago and it’s not that it wasn’t a welcoming space, but I think that to minority groups such as the LGBTQ+ community, we can always be more welcoming and create safer spaces,” Haas said.
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