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.
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!