Coby was taken on a tour of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, one of the few programs that existed to help those who had AIDS. When he returned to Indianapolis, Coby and his friends realized that The Bag Ladies could transform their predilection for parties into a fundraising venture. The group held a benefit that raised $2,000, half of which went to the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and half to local organizations. The group also started spreading the word locally about this new disease. From that humble beginning, The Bag Ladies & The Bag Ladies Bus Tour have evolved into one of the LGBTQI+ community’s best fundraising organizations! Since the initial bus tour, more and more people have become part of this growing tradition. The Bag Ladies are stronger than ever and the money they raise supports many organizations in Indiana: The Damien Center, the Gregory Powers Direct Emergency Financial Assistance (DEFA) Fund, Indiana Youth Group (IYG), Step Up, and the Indiana AIDS Fund all benefit from money raised by The Bag Ladies. In addition to the annual Bus Tour, several former “Queens” along with others raise money through performances throughout the year. Currently, the “ladies” march on in their high heels and outrageous costumes & hair and continue raising money! In the 3+ decades they’ve been around, The Bag Ladies — the organization that grew out of the first ever Bag Ladies Bus Tour — have raised more than $3 million with no plans of stopping.
The Indy Bag Ladies ~ founded by Coby Palmer, Ed Walsh & Gary Johnson ~ could quite possibly be the nation’s first HIV/AIDS fundraising organization. When Coby, Ed and Gary heard that a local man, famous for his wild Halloween parties, would not be hosting a party in 1981, they decided to pick up the baton and go one step further with The Bag Ladies Bus Tour. The Bag Ladies got their name from an article out of a New York City newspaper. Coby read in the article that the New York “bag ladies” were fun and campy and had lots of “chutzpah!” The invitation for the first Bag Ladies Bus Tour came on a simple brown paper bag. Party-goers were invited to dress in drag and tote trash bags full of costume changes like the bag ladies in New York City. A city bus would ferry them on a Halloween crawl of the city’s gay bars. It was just about having a good time in 1981 — but on a trip to New York in 1982, Coby heard about a deadly, new disease that seemed to be singling out gay men around the country.
The Bus Tour
The Gregory Power Direct Emergency Financial Assistance (DEFA) Fund
The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis established the Gregory Powers Direct Emergency Financial Assistance (DEFA) Fund in 2002 to provide grants to care coordination sites across Indiana. These grants support PLWH (people living with HIV) in a variety of ways which include helping with medical needs, dealing with housing issues, providing access to services and day-to-day living expenses. The Bag Ladies are proud to be one of the organizations which contributes to this vital program.
Bag Ladies Assist Organizations
One of the first organizations that benefited from donations by The Bag Ladies was the Buddy House which provided housing for individuals with HIV/AIDS who were having financial difficulties. In the early years, several of the Bag Ladies Queens did other fundraising events such as photo signings, cook book sales and cut-a-thons as well as helping to organize events like the Garage Party.
The Bag Ladies have been part of several organizations throughout the years including: Indiana Cares, AIDS Serve, Indiana Still Cares and Indy Pride, Inc. In January 2017, the Bag Ladies officially became part of The Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis to more closely align the group with the organization where most of the funds are donated.
Current Events & the Bus Tour
The Bag Ladies are men (and a few women/drag kings) willing to dress in high heels and wear outrageous costumes to entertain and raise money for the Indianapolis LGBTQI+ community and beyond. For the past several years, the Bag Ladies have held annual fundraising events. These events have included Cadillac Barbie’s Disco Brunch, Shimmering Shamrocks, For The Love of Queens, Sequoia Pentecost & Rachel Yoder’s Annual Country/Gospel Brunch, Halle Pino’s Night on the Bayou and Loud & Proud (an event held during Indy Pride week). However, their best known event is still the Annual Bag Ladies Bus Tour. As in the beginning, each year around Halloween, the “Ladies” travel from bar to bar soliciting money until the early hours of the morning on what is called “The Bag Ladies Bus Tour.” At the end of the night a new Bag Ladies Queen is crowned. Originally, this was the Bag Lady who raised the most money. While raising money is still a major factor in crowning the Queen, the organization now hosts a Bag Ladies Queen Pageant prior to the annual Bus Tour. (See Bag Ladies Selection Process and Duties of the Bag Ladies Queen).
Bag Lady Queen Selection Criteria (updated 2019)
The purpose of the Bag Ladies Queen is to provide community service and help plan and create fundraising events. Below is detailed information about the selection criteria for Bag Ladies Queen. The following information is provided to make sure that all Bag Ladies Queen candidates are aware of the rules and expectations for the campaign and duties in the role of Bag Ladies Queen.
Qualifications to apply for candidacy:
- Candidate must have ridden the Indy Bag Ladies Bus Tour at least once.
- Candidate must have a former Bag Ladies Queen (BLQ) as Mentor (cannot be the current BLQ).
- Candidate must be of legal age (21) to enter bars.
- Candidate must have NO current or pending legal issues (if this changes during the course of the year, the sub-committee and mentor must be notified immediately. Candidate MUST agree to a background check.
- Candidate must be approved by Bag Ladies’ Queen Committee (QC); simply putting in an application does not qualify you as a Candidate. The QC consists of:
Bag Lady Candidate Sub Committee Leader (Former) – Schedules and Facilitates meetings
Bag Lady Co-Leader (Former) – Backup to the Leader
Bag Lady Coordinator – Liaison between Sub Committee and the BL Committee, Approves Event/Show Calendar Dates, escalates inquiries or issues to the BL Committee
Volunteer Mentors (Formers) – Advises candidates and assists with event/show planning
Current BLQ – Advises candidates
All accepted candidates will meet with the sub-committee in early April to discuss events. Candidates and their mentor MUST have details on their events (show, private events, etc.) prepared for this meeting. *The scheduling of events must be vetted against the Master Calendar of BL events which is owned by the BL Committee and managed by the BL Coordinator.
All monies from events MUST be handled by the mentor(s), BLQ(s), or approved and designated person(s) and must be turned in the day/night of the event. *If there is a situation of a match that isn’t collected at the time of the event, ALL matched funds must be collected and turned in within 48 hours of the event to the BLQ Coordinator.
- All candidates should ask the other candidates, the current BLQ, and Formers to perform in their Drag Show prior to inviting non Bag Ladies performers.
No candidate may bill themselves as a Bag Ladies candidate at a non-Bag Ladies show unless they turn in all tips from said shows.
Candidates who do not adhere to the requirements set forth may be disqualified from being a BLQ candidate.
DISCLAIMER: All rules are subject to change during the year with or without advance notice from the QC. IF any issue arises with a candidate, the QC will issue a private warning, and disqualification (for current year or longer) is possible.
Rules for Candidates
- Candidate may NOT post/advertise that they are candidates until official notification of candidate slate by the Bag Ladies Committee which will be on or prior to April 1st.
- Candidate must have a mentor sign their application and submit to Sub Committee NO LATER than March 17th.
- Candidate must attend sub-committee meetings as set up and required by the sub-committee (schedule and frequency will be determined by the sub-committee).
- Candidate must read, sign, and follow all rules published by the QC (including usage of BL name, social media, fundraising, interaction with other candidates and groups, personal and candidate name web pages, etc).
- Candidate should attend as many BL events as possible but must participate in at least 2 BL events as non-performers, one of these events being Loud and Proud in June. Candidates will perform in the Bag Ladies Showcase in October.
- Candidate may have one Drag Show event but may host other types of fundraising efforts. Additional Drag Shows and other types of fundraising events using the BL MUST have prior approval of both the Candidate Sub-committee and the Bag Ladies Committee.
Duties of the Bag Ladies Queen
- If the Bag Ladies Queen is attending another event such as but not limited to any fundraisers, pageants, community events the Queen must wear the Bag Lady Queen Sash. If the Queen is judging the event, the Queen should be in full face and dressed appropriately.
- The Queen will be responsible for organizing and hosting The Stockings Were Hung show with the outgoing Queen. The new Queen should invite other candidates who were not selected to participate in this event.
- The Queen will coordinate the former Bag Ladies Queens and encourage them to ride on the float during the Cadillac Barbie Pride Parade.
- The Queen shall promote and encourage new riders for the annual Bag Ladies Bus Tour and encourage contestants to compete for Bag Ladies Queen.
- The Queen will not compete or hold any other titles until her reign as Bag Ladies Queen is completed.
- The Queen is encouraged to be involved in other fundraising events happening in the community or offer community services as the need arises.
- The Queen should be an active participate and help coordinate a Bag Ladies Team in the AIDS Walk.
- The Queen is expected to attend and participate in as many Bag Ladies events as possible during the year.
All decisions on applications, vendors, fundraising events, appearances, Queen selection will be final. These criteria are meant to be used as tools to make this opportunity as much fun, and respectful as possible and ensuring the heart of the Bag Ladies Queen title remains true! A List of Bag Lady Queens
The Bag Ladies currently present two awards: The Blossom/Cadillac Barbie Award and the Joseph F. Miller Community Service Award. The Blossom/Cadillac Barbie Award is given to an individual who has gone “above and beyond” in the Indianapolis community and who continues to be dedicated to making the LGBTQI+ Community a better place for everyone. This award is named after Blossom (Coby Palmer), Bag Lady founder and Cadillac Barbie (Gary Brackett) for providing leadership to keep the organization viable from 2005 – present. A listing of former Blossom/Cadillac Barbie Award winners is available on the website During the 30th Anniversary Bus Tour, the Bag Ladies introduced a new annual award – the Joseph F. Miller Community Service Award. This award is named in memory of Joseph F. Miller, renowned philanthropist from Indianapolis and friend of the Bag Ladies who passed away in 2010. This award will be presented annually to someone in the community has given above and beyond of his/her time, talents, and money to enrich the lives of the LGBTQI+ Community in Indianapolis. A listing of former award winners is available on the website. At the 35th Annual Bag Ladies Bus Tour, Founder Coby Palmer presented Founders Awards to: Ed Talucci, Tom Sizemore and Gary Brackett for their support and service to the organization throughout the years.
For information about how to schedule a Bag Ladies Event or to have The Indy Bag Ladies participate in a fundraising event, please contact Sparkle Nightly (Joe Jean) at firstname.lastname@example.org