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Mariah Hanson: Palm Springs still loves its lesbians after 22 years

(Editor's note: This commentary was originally published on HuffPost Gay Voices, a content-sharing partner of SDGLN.)

It's been 22 years since my first Dinah Shore Weekend production.

I was obviously much younger, and clearly wet behind the ears, but I was determined to elevate this small lesbian weekend centered around the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament to new heights.

Lesbians did not have the signature events the guys had. It was about time, and what better place than sunny Palm Springs, Calif., home of the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament?

Palm Springs is a beautiful desert resort town, and today it enjoys a healthy and growing LGBT community, but this was not always the case.

When I started the Dinah, as it is called today, Palm Springs was a very Republican town, a place where one might imagine a young Rick Santorum might have played a few rounds. But there were enough liberals there, and enough lesbians already coming to the Dinah Shore Golf Tournament, for me to believe that it was the right spot for a burgeoning -- but hopefully one day large-scale -- lesbian event.

It had all the right ingredients: out local lesbians, sun, pools, hotels, recreation, and event spaces, and the parties were centered around a world-famous sports event.

It just needed a lesbian promoter with big ideas.

Palm Springs already had a magical, old-Hollywood background. Considered the playground of the stars, Marilyn Monroe, Dinah Shore, Burt Reynolds, James Dean, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, and many more have purchased homes or spent time there. Brad Pitt himself was rumored to have been considering purchasing the now-defunct Racquet Club Hotel several years back.

Now, if I had my way, Palm Springs was soon to be the playground of thousands of lesbians. Our star was rising. I had grand visions of cutting-edge performers, the best DJs, upscale and elegant event locations, thousands of women, corporate sponsors, city-wide recognition -- you name it, I was dreaming it.

And then, homophobia appeared to have arrived.

I had secured my hotel and party space: the Palm Springs Racquet Club. But before the ink had even dried, they abruptly cancelled my contract! They never said why. I could only imagine word had reached the upper management that a lesbian group had booked the entire hotel and was planning massive parties, and they put the kibosh on the idea. That was 22 years ago. Palm Springs was much, much more conservative. To my knowledge, lesbians had never taken over a hotel before, much less a town.

I never found out why they cancelled, but I did find myself with big dreams and no location to house them. So I scrambled to find another location. Everywhere I turned, I was told, "No, sorry, we are already booked that weekend."

But I was asking almost a year out; how could every hotel be booked? Had some memo gone out that I was not aware of?

So I called in the big guns, a popular destination-management company, Zech Properties, owned by a liberal, straight man who loved my idea of a city-wide lesbian event. His name was Paul Zech, and if it were not for his belief in the equality of gay people, and his belief that we were good business, the Dinah Shore Weekend as we know it today might never have happened.

Paul pulled some strings for me and landed my group a contract with a small, 122-room hotel, the Palm Mountain Resort, one block from the Palm Springs Museum. It certainly helped that the general manager, Greg Purdy, was sympathetic to my dream.

But I still needed an event space. Unlike the Racquet Club, the Palm Mountain had no event space. Paul recommended the Museum. Why not? It was absolutely gorgeous, certainly large enough, and if you became a corporate benefactor for $2,500, you earned the right to hold a private cocktail reception for your company on property! Bing! I loved this idea.

So I dressed up in my only suit, probably left over from my post-college years when I was hitting the pavement searching for a job. I walked into the museum and without revealing too many details about my planned corporate cocktail party, I signed up, wrote my check, and set my date: March 27, 1991.

As I recall, it was a wild night in the museum.

We were partying in a building that housed some of the most valuable modern art in the country. With the exception of one gallery, they allowed my group into every room. I set up a dance room in one gallery, a smoking area in the Sinatra gardens, and bars everywhere.

At one point, I watched as a woman leaned her arm on the stand of a cast of Rodin's famous sculpture, The Thinker, and flirted shamelessly with another woman. Priceless. Literally.

Of course, when you put that many women in one room, mischief is bound to happen. A trio of gals somehow managed to climb to the roof in the Sinatra Sculpture Garden. The roof was up lit with bright par cans. The gals sauntered over to the par cans and began dancing slowly while they slipped their tops over their head. The all-women crowd below went wild.

Zoom in on the septuagenarian security guards, whose eyes bulged in disbelief either because they could not believe what they were seeing in this respectable institution, or because they had to climb up after these wild women.

But climb they did. And once atop the roof, they began their pursuit. They chased the girls, and the girls ran in a circle, the guards in pursuit. Imagine a Keystone Kops scene. The girls laughed, the guards huffed and puffed, their AARP cards fading with each impressively youthful stride. These guards were old, but with the spirit of men 30 years younger, they didn't give up. Finally, the girls were caught.

Simultaneously, in another part of the building, an art theft was taking place. A valuable and well-known sculpture of a cowboy stood tall in another gallery, complete with a 10-gallon cowboy hat. Without a witness in sight, or at least one that came forward, the hat went missing! This was serious. The frazzled museum officials tracked me down. I was busy lecturing some women who were smoking in the museum and had put their cigarettes out in an indigenous sand sculpture. Egads, this was out of control!

Alerted to the theft, with a serious admonition that I'd better find that hat, my team and I frantically strolled through the party, asking just about every woman -- and there were 1,750 of them -- whether any of them had seen a 10-gallon cowboy hat. No one had.

At 2 am, the party ended. Overall, it was a huge success for Club Skirts. The eventful night was an auspicious beginning to a long career. I certainly made it a point to develop my skills as a producer, especially the skills relating to party management and crowd control.

I'm happy to say that we are a much more organized company today, with no chance of losing control at our events. However, I smile recalling our humble beginning in Palm Springs, that Republican town, where for one night the lesbians took over the Palm Springs Museum, and for a brief time lesbian anarchy reigned.

After that event, flushed with the success of my first Dinah and anticipating another wonderful party in the museum, I was informed by museum management that Club Skirts was not invited back. The corporate benefactor policy had been rewritten, and no corporate parties with more than 500 guests were allowed in the museum.

So I was back at square one, looking for an event space for 1992. Oh, did I mention that the Palm Springs Racquet Club's general manager and director of sales had been at the museum party, checking it out? They'd both offered me their cards during the evening and asked me to please call. They said they would love to host the event the following year.

I didn't call, though. I choose to stay with the hotel that believed in the group all along. I spent two years at the Palm Mountain, but that's how quickly we outgrew it. By year three, the event had grown sizably, and we needed a bigger hotel.

2012 marks my 22nd year hosting the largest lesbian event in the world.

The event has a history steeped in Palm Springs lore. In my opinion the Dinah Shore Weekend could not realistically take place anywhere else. I am often asked if I would move the location or take the Dinah on the road. To take the Dinah out of Palm Springs would be an act of Palm Springs treason.

Over the years Palm Springs, once a stuffy Republican town, has warmly embraced the event, our customers, and our lifestyles. Palm Springs has come to epitomize the definition of "living out loud."

The city boasts a very large LGBT population (estimates are that nearly half of the residents identify as gay), not to mention gay and gay-friendly businesses -- restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, retailers, etc. -- providing a unique sense of community. I can't help but think the Dinah is partly responsible for this positive change.

The museum still holds to its revised corporate benefactor policy, and quite frankly, I don't blame them.

However, today, every hotel and event space not housing priceless artwork welcomes the event. In fact, Palm Springs loves its lesbians so much that it proudly hangs a 60-foot banner across the main street for one month prior to the event, welcoming us back for all to see -- gay, straight, curious, and anything in between!

Follow Mariah Hanson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dinahshore