A busload of outlandishly dressed partiers may conjure up images of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, but in this city, that sight is a beacon of hope in the fight against AIDS.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Indy Pride Bag Ladies, a group of men who each Halloween don drag and solicit city bars for donations for AIDS charities. The original event was borne out of an annual Halloween party, where partiers wanted to do something to help their friends who were infected with HIV/AIDS, so the bus tour was substituted for the party.
Last year about 100 ‘ladies’ paid $50 each to ride two buses around the city for the event that raised between $7,000 and $8,000 for the Gregory Powers Direct Emergency Financial Assistance Fund (DEFA), an organization that helps HIV/AIDS patients with emergency housing, transportation, food and medical care.
The Bag Ladies proudly claim they are one of the first AIDS fundraising organizations in the United States, and today, dressing up isn’t only for Halloween. “We do four to eight fundraising events a year,” says Bag Ladies coordinator Gary Brackett, who says others have estimated the Bag Ladies have raised close to $1 million over the last 30 years.
And while the Bag Ladies have expanded their repertoire beyond a bus tour, now hosting drag shows, they also no longer limit themselves to raising money for only AIDS charities. Over the years the Bag Ladies have raised money for various local organizations, including the Indiana Youth Group and the Indianapolis Men’s Chorus. Last year alone they collected and donated over $25,000 for area charities.
Their next event is a drag show during Indy Pride Week (Thursday, June 10) called Bag Ladies 3D—Three Decades of Divas. The money raised at the show will go towards the costs of putting on Pride.
“We’re just a group of guys having fun, trying to give back to the community,” Brackett says.