Dinah Shore lesbian festival shines in dark times for women

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Palm Springs: It’s a scorching afternoon in Southern California and thousands descended on a 65,000 square meter complex in Palm Springs for the largest gathering of queer women in the world.

As the temperature soars above 40 degrees, a DJ gets the crowd pumping as a group of bikini-clad women dance and twerk by a pool filled with cheering revelers.

Around the corner, on a manicured lawn lined with palm trees, others brave the desert heat to compete in a dodgeball contest, dodging and diving as six rubber balls are tossed from team to team. other.

And on the pool deck, couples, singles and groups of friends sit on towels and under umbrellas, happily immersed in an annual event that has become a rite of passage for so many women across the world. world for the past 31 years: the Dinah Shore festival.

Dinah Shore founder and producer Mariah Hanson (left) with American singer Fletcher (centre) and Hanson’s partner Maureen Vanderpool at the event this month.Credit:Getty

“It started as an opportunity to throw an amazing party in a safe space, to show people what the ‘loud and proud’ life is like. Now it’s all of that and more,” Mariah Hanson tells me, Founder and Event Producer.

“We have had people over the years who have had terminal news from their doctor and Dinah on their to-do list. When we were in the war in Iraq, the military came here on leave. We’ve had people who have “come out,” but their parents have disowned them, and they’re looking for community. That’s where they find it, and for some people it’s been life changing.

Affectionately referred to as “lesbian spring break,” Dinah Shore attracts approximately 15,000 people each year, drawn to its “no judgement” philosophy and legacy of inclusion and empowerment. It also featured some of the biggest stars and up-and-coming artists in the United States: from Lady Gaga and Lizzo to Chaka Khan and this year’s headliner, gay icon and singer-songwriter Fletcher.

Dinah contestants Christine and Danne from Las Vegas (both left) with friends.

Dinah contestants Christine and Danne from Las Vegas (both left) with friends.Credit:Farrah Tomazine

But beyond celebrities, DJ battles, fun and frivolity, Hanson, 60, also sees “the Dinah” as a platform for women’s rights and the broader LGBTQ movement.

And this year’s event – which takes place against the backdrop of eroding access to abortion in the United States, global attacks on the transgender community and civil unrest in Iran following the death of a 22-year-old woman by the country’s “morality police” – was also a powerful reminder that the equality and diversity that Dinah Shore aspires to cannot be taken for granted.

“What we see in the world today is an absolute assault on women,” says Hanson.

“Roe v Wade (the landmark abortion decision that was overturned by the Supreme Court in June) is one example, but it’s only a symptom of a much larger problem.

“We are facing a crisis in this country, which means that as a community we must once again speak out, stand up and be counted.”

The seeds of Dinah Shore were sown in 1990, when Hanson decided to host the first one-night Dinah Party at the Palm Springs Art Museum, attracting around 1,000 people. It aimed to create an inclusive space for many lesbians attending the Dinah Shore Nabisco Classic, a women’s golf tournament founded in the 1970s by singer-songwriter Dinah Shore, the late wife of Hollywood actor Burt Reynolds.

Three decades later, the now five-day festival is universally recognized as the largest annual gathering of queer women in the world, with supportive “allies” such as trans and cis men also permitted. Its iconic status is partly thanks to the groundbreaking series The word I, the first mainstream show centered around a group of lesbian characters. Its first season in 2003 featured an episode featuring Dinah Shore Weekend, which for many women around the world was the first time they realized there was a major event just for them.

Meag Williams (right) and her partner Jay Allison from LA.

Meag Williams (right) and her partner Jay Allison from LA.Credit:Farrah Tomazine

“I remember seeing it as a teenager and when we finally moved to LA I was like, ‘We gotta go to Dinah and see it for ourselves,'” says Meag Williams, who attended this year with his partner, Jay Allison.

“It’s just good to be around other queer women and to be part of a community,” Allison says.

The importance of having one place for gay women is particularly acute given the few remaining lesbian places in America, with a recent study suggesting that there are only about 20 left, in part due to the skyrocketing rents, the impact of COVID, and more women turning to dating. apps.

To that end, an annual retreat like Dinah Shore is an attractive option. As 48-year-old Tay Samson, who describes herself as a “Virgin Dinah,” tells me as she sits with his wife of 18 years: “It’s so important to have a safe space like the one where people can be themselves, especially for the younger ones. generation.”

While Dinah runs Wednesday through Sunday nights, the weekend is where the crowd festivities really kick off. Last Friday, celebrities walked the red carpet for a black and white ball headlined by 90s pop star Taylor Dayne and Canadian rapper Haviah Mighty.

Saturday, the infamous L Word Pool Party took place – named after the series that first shone the spotlight on Dinah Shore – followed by a Hollywood-themed dance party in the grand ballroom of the host hotel, the Margaritaville Resort, which attracted the likes of Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and Marilyn Monroe to her former life as Riviera.

Danger!  Champion Amy Schneider speaks with members of the press at the White House to participate in Transgender Awareness Day.

Danger! Champion Amy Schneider speaks with members of the press at the White House to participate in Transgender Awareness Day.Credit:PA

Among the guests was Danger! Amy Schneider, quiz show champion turned transgender lawyer, who told age and the Sydney Morning Herald that while things have improved dramatically for the LGBTQ community, events like Dinah Shore provide a platform for trans visibility, which will hopefully lead to greater acceptance from mainstream America.

“People see me on Danger! changed a surprising number of minds, so I want to keep getting out there,” she says. “It’s amazing how far we’ve come, but right now there’s real harm because people are being denied basic health care. [due to discrimination]. So anyone with a platform like this has a responsibility to speak up.

As the women partied over the weekend, phone numbers and Instagram accounts were exchanged with drunken kisses. But long-term relationships and future marriages have also been formed here too, and regulars often return to reconnect with friends they’ve met in previous years.

And when it’s all over in the early hours of Monday morning, thousands of women leave Palm Springs feeling like they’ve been part of something affirming and empowering.

“You can be who you are and no one judges you,” says Las Vegas resident Christine as she danced poolside with wife Danne and two friends. “And that feels right then good.”

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