Early Pride Celebrations

Eartha Kitt at the Radisson for the 1989 Pride Celebration.

Thirty five years ago little was offered for the desert gay and lesbian community to do besides hanging out at nightclubs - that appeared to be the only social activity and opportunity to meet other gay people.  The gay community was just beginning to organize and desert pride festivals were non-existent.  The recently formed business organization (DBA) participated in the Los Angeles pride festivals with parade entries and informational booths - but a local celebration did not happen until 1986 when Bob Hoven chaired the first DBA pride committee with H. Gordon Chaves and Peter Romich producing and directing a showcase of talented locals at the Riviera Resort's grand ballroom called "Sizzle".  Pride celebrations were indoor affairs - and everyone looked forward to Sizzle 2 which ended being more of a  fizzle since it was not well received by the community due to its negative subject matter and poorly staged production.  To quote one letter we received, "From the beginning to the dying end, Sizzle was laden with boredom.  Dialogue and songs about: singles bars; tricks; and the Ku Klux Klan barely conjure up ideas of celebration."  In 1989 our Pride featured a Friday reception at the Fashion Plaza; the Saturday Eartha Kitt show at the Radisson with Romanovsky & Phillips and a Sunday Country Fair hosted by the Desert Women's Association at The Villa.  Another year had popular gay entertainer, Charles Pierce appearing at the McCallum Theater for a Pride show.   The DBA had become the umbrella organization for many fledgling groups including:  Gay Pride; Desert AIDS Project; Desert Women's Association; Desert Rainbow Foundation and AIDS Assistance Program.  Over the years numerous interest and social groups formed, political clubs created; and sports teams organized to serve and support valley locals.  Bars were no longer centers of social activity for desert locals - a community was slowly forming with the steady influx of gay men and women moving to the desert - increasing our voting ranks and growing our economic clout.  Bill and I believed that with the editions we sent around the country to gay bookstores, hotels and bars our advertisers were getting more bang for their buck.  I remember when a realtor called and asked if we deliver to Seattle because he just sold five homes to a group of friends who had picked up copies and decided to fly down and buy homes.  We shipped magazines to: West Hollywood; San Diego; San Francisco; Portland; Seattle; Chicago; Washington, D.C., Russian River; Laguna Beach; New York City; and Fort Lauderdale, among a number of other cities - it kept Bill busy with the weekly shipments.  The desert was growing and changing faster than anyone could expect and more gay people were falling under the enchantment of the Coachella Valley and looking for their own private haven in the sun.

The ensuing years saw the Cathedral City Auto park; Demuth Park; Sunrise Park; and Arenas Road all sites of our pride festivals.  Gone were the indoor shows and replaced with vendor booths, food courts, beer gardens, and outdoor stages.  Our offices featured a conference room that many community groups used for their monthy meetings, Pride was one of them.  My staff published the Pride programs for years '97 through '99.  In 1997 the Pride festival moved to the Arenas Road location - C.J. Pino was president and requested help from the downtown businesses to host the festival - that was the first year our Pride parade premiered on Palm Canyon Drive with Grand Marshall Michael Feinstein - early Pride parades were relegated to Mesquite Road and in '96 on Ramon Road.  C.J. stepped in after the presidency of Richard Black during the early 90s.  The 1998 festival featured free shuttle service between Palm Springs and Cathedral City - but was marred by the fact that a number of Cathedral City business owners were upset that the event would again be in Palm Springs and even threatened to create a competing festival and parade.  Using Pride as a means of tearing the gay community apart defied logic and common sense - we had enough enemies in the world - we shouldn't have to fight each other. 

PRIDE MEMORIES

My sister, Dave Iraci and I appeared in the first gay celebration.  Both my sister and I played guitars and Dave accompanied us on the piano.  Our salute to the 60's included songs: If I Had A Hammer, Where Have All The Flowers Gone and This Land Is Your Land - Peter, Paul and Mary would have been proud!  My niece was dressed as a hippie and gave out flowers while parading with a sign that read "No! on LaRouche" along the apron of the stage.  Lyndon LaRouche was proposing an initiative that would quarantine people with AIDS and place them in detention centers - similar to the fate of Japanese-Americans during WWII.  We were soon joined by the audience in our singing protest against social injustice.  There was always rebel in my blood!

Dr. Barry Woods was instrumental in bringing Eartha Kitt.  He knew Ms. Kitt from years back and approached her regarding our celebration.  It was rumored that they were married at one time.

The Cathedral City Auto Park was the site of our Pride and proved to be not the best choice - it was summer and the asphalt softened with the triple digit temperature.  I remember walking into a packed bar and restaurant at the Desert Palms when the festival site had a handful of people at best.  It's a sad affair when the vendors outnumber the attendees.

Dr. Herb Lazenby was instrumental in procuring Charles Pierce one year with a sensational show at the McCallum Theater.  Dr. Herb and Thom hosted a fabulous reception at their desert villa - a perfect setting for the community to come together and celebrate Pride.

The Pride parade moved to Palm Canyon Drive in 1997 with the help of three city council members:  Deyna Hodges, Ron Oden, and Jeanne Reller-Spurgeon.  They were elected to the council with the solid support from the gay community.  Mayor Kleindienst agreed to the move since it would be financially rewarding to his wife's escrow company due to the fact that there was a large group of gay and lesbian real estate agents.  Kleindienst and his wife, Kathy, were members of Desert Chapel whose congregation marched on city hall opposing AB-101 because of their anti-homosexual beliefs.

In 1992 our desert Pride Festival & Parade was held over Memorial Day weekend at Demuth Park & hosted by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance of the Desert.  Mark Tucker & Richard Black were festival co-chairmen with Dale Jag as Pride Parade chairman.

A Country Affair was sponsored by the Desert Women's Association and held on the grounds of The Villa.  The few vendor booths made for a small fair and attendance - there was still a disparity in our community.  That slowly dissolved with the inclusion of women in our organizations.  I suggested, at a DBA board meeting with president Dick Haskamp - when faced with a board appointment - that he look to the women's community since there hadn't been a female presence on this board since Linda Decker, back in the early 80's.  The board decided to appoint Sandy Bennen to the board.  Sandy had recently moved back to the desert and DBA business networking was important for survival in the desert.  In 1999 she proved to be an indispensable volunteer for Pride with her sunny disposition and get it done attitude.  Sandy's duties as board member was to organize the scholarship program that was recently instituted.  She did an outstanding job and the organization was able to offer five scholarships that year!

Pride Memories Continue

PAM & SKIP ON OUR DECEMBER 8, 1995 COVER

It was the summer of 1997 with our Pride Celebration in November.  We offered a complimentary full page space every issue to Pride to use as they needed - for advertising, announcements and press releases.  This same offer was given to the Desert Rodeo who used their space every issue right up to their event - building the excitement as the weeks slipped away.  Our philosophy at The Bottom Line was to always offer a step up to any gay organization - fundraisers ads were always complimentary - why charge them money when they're trying to raise money!  Each deadline my staff would call C.J. for information that we could use but she wasn't able to provide any due to the absence of the president Richard Black.  His frequent trips out of the country made it difficult for the board to function.  She met with business owners on Arenas Road and with Skip Wilson saved us from having no festival at all.  Skip worked at Streetbar and was also involved in the Desert AIDS Project and the Desert Rodeo.  Pam Gilligan and Skip did a weekly radio show and that year they did live feeds from Arenas on the patio at Streetbar.  He was dynamic and a go-getter - any project that Skip was involved with always prove to be successful - his charm, loyalty, dedication, tenacity, and loving concern for our community will long be remembered.  He and partner Don Dyar opened Skip's Cabana Club in Rancho Mirage and proved to be a popular place to dine and meet friends.  The Club has since faded into the desert history of tales & legends along with Skip - one of our many unsung heroes of the desert gay community.  The issue below contains an interview with C.J. Pino by Sandy Bennen where she speaks of the '96 festival and the vital need for community involvement.  Up until this time the community was involved but on a very limited basis.  It may have been lack of communication or how the board was structured but all duties seemed to be shared by only board members and few others.

There was nothing to distinguish the '97 and '98 Pride festivals from an Arenas Road Block Party outside of more gay flags and vendor booths.  In 1998 the festival offered free bus service - catch a free ride to the festival location from any Cathedral City and Palm Desert (Backstreet was in the Palm to Pines Center) gay bar or hotel location and avoid the congestion and parking situation.  The buses were secured through Celebrity Tours and made hourly runs between cities with the festival stop Arenas at Indian Canyon Drive - our critics were still a hard crowd to please!  Few people took advantage of the complimentary service even though it was publicized at each stop and in the our magazine - next year this service was cancelled due to its costliness.  Community members could sponsor a tree for the street in order to stage a more pedestrian friendly setting.  Each of the potted ficus trees and queen palms softened and enhanced the streetscape recognizing the sponsoring person or business.  After the festival I contacted the owners of the Arenas Road properties to donate the trees for the empty raised planters on the street but our offer was refused when they asked, "Who's going to take care of them?"

While president in '99 I was faced with one of those King Solomon decisions.  Sean, VP was opposed to the street location as the festival site and after months of debates and heated discussions on a number of locations a compromise was met having our corporate business sponsors and non-profit organizations using the street as an informational and display pavilion (car dealers loved the idea).  In the center of the street between Streetbar and Rainbow Cactus would be the "Dance Arena" with a number of DJs providing the high energy music non-stop building excitement throughout the day with go-go dancers and flaggers performing atop platforms ringing the dance arena.  Opening day festivities started with the San Diego Gay Band marching down Arenas and onto the festival grounds to officially open our Pride Festival. Businesses along Arenas decorate their store fronts and roof profile with lighting making the evening streetscape glow with excitement.  Our main stage featured Doric columns and a dance floor adjacent to the beer garden and food court.  Game booths were given to various gay groups free of charge to help fund their needs.  Prizes were retrived from our rewards center stocked with gifts from sponsors including: RSVP Tours, Spa Hotel & Casino, beer and liquor distributors.  The Saturday evening cabaret show featured local entertainers providing entertainment to a full house.  Chuck Marx was Entertainment Chair and did an outstanding job in providing stellar entertainment under the desert star-filled sky as well as throughout the two day festival run.  My partner Bill surprised me with rotating search lights illuminating Saturday night's sky from Arenas and Encilia.  Sunday was phenomenal - it exceeded our wildest dreams!  I remember walking in on board officers Jack Schloeder and Denise Goolsby counting the funds collected from donation cans located throughout the festival grounds - he held up a fistful of $100 bills with an astounded look - he was visibly moved by the generosity of our community.  The Pride parade went off with few problems - weeks earlier Sean had given me his resignation, which I refused - and his employee Chris Reese filled in for him.  I was told that he was having surgery that Sunday and would be unable to attend.  Sean was to oversee the staging of the parade so a number of directors were there to assist Chris with the preparations.  Radio celebrity Maurice Bratt and I were emcees and had a ball with the crowds as we stopped parade entries as they passed in review and had them say a few words to the assembled thousands lining Palm Canyon Drive.  Pride drama continues on the "Pride & Beyond" chapter when I was elected president in 1999.

OUR 1997 DESERT GAY PRIDE EDITION