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Editor’s Note: A representative of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Awards approached the Independent about publishing this Q&A with Mariah Hanson, the founder of one of Palm Springs’ largest annual events: the Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend, aka “The Dinah” (thedinah.com). The 2014 event takes place April 2-6.

Hanson is the recipient of the 2013 Athena Leadership Award, presented by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce. She—along with Carol Channing and Helene Galen—will be honored at the 2013 Athena Luncheon, at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Renaissance Palm Springs, 888 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs, Tickets are $85, or $65 for chamber members. To register or get more information, visit www.pschamber.org.

How does it feel to be recognized and honored by the city of Palm Springs with an Athena Award?

I am beyond honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award. To be singled out alongside such other distinguished and esteemed honorees, not to mention (being in) such stellar company of women, is, on a personal level, quite an amazing prestige. Just as importantly for me, as an LGBT American to earn such distinction at the local government level from both the Chamber of Commerce and the city of Palm Springs itself is simply incredible.

Why do you think events like the Athena Awards, which honor women leaders, are important?

Contrary to the stereotypical stigma, women are strong and empowered leaders. Yet we are only recognized as such when we adopt a more-masculine persona in business. I personally believe when we, as women, feel confident enough to also bring our feminine attributes into business—such as kindness and compassion, and absolutely own these qualities—we conduct kinder and more-empowering business for all. So yes, awards such as the Athena Awards are extremely important. Overall, it encourages women to take charge, to lead and to blaze forward, in a way that leaves a wake of empowerment and inclusiveness for other women—and men as well!

You’re celebrating 24 years producing the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs. What role has the city played in the overall success of the event?

Palm Springs has been an amazing partner throughout the 24 years I have been conducting business here. It’s a smart city, run by smart people, who “get it.”

As the saying goes: A rising tide lifts all boats, and Palm Springs appears to understand and fearlessly take that approach in its vision of the future. It is one of the many reasons it has once again reinvented itself and is now enjoying another exceptional renaissance. I honestly could not have found a better place to produce The Dinah than Palm Springs; and I am beyond grateful of the support and love the city and the community has given my event, my customers and me for almost a quarter-century now. It’s an amazing LGBT-supportive city, and this recognition shows just how truly hip and inclusive Palm Springs is. I look forward to The Dinah being here for another 24 years!

What was the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a woman in the course of these 24 years producing the Dinah?

Some men I have worked with over the years don’t take women as seriously as they should, but that’s an endemic problem between the sexes and not one that I have ever felt inhibited by. Personally, when faced with sexism, rather than fight it, I’m more inclined to simply take another approach. What’s important is achieving your goals. If you do that, you’ve successfully fought sexism. Many roads lead to Rome, and as long as you get there, all is well.

On a personal level, what does the Dinah represent for you? And what got you hooked to want to produce it for 24 years?

The Dinah is a celebration of living out loud, of being heard, of being seen. When you break it down, at a fundamental level, isn’t that what we all want? For five days, I have the esteemed opportunity to make that possible for a lot of women who may not enjoy that kind of freedom when they return home. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I like to think it is life-changing for them.

What is it about The Dinah that is a life-changing experience for women?

Imagine living in a more-remote part of the country where being out may not be considered socially acceptable. Fast-forward to arriving at The Dinah, where thousands of women are living out loud, without the fear of being judged or bullied. Not only that, but they’re also embraced by an entire city that sends an unspoken message of: You’re worth it! That’s life-changing. Imagine being an older lesbian who has had to keep her love for her partner “in the closet” for her entire lifetime and then attends The Dinah—or perhaps just one of our many events. She then gets a glimpse into this public celebration of our lives. She surely must think: All that work and efforts to attain our rights was worth it. Look at this joy!

What do you think mainstream perception of the event is? And is it important that mainstream people know about it?

I think mainstream society looks at this event like they do any other event that celebrates a specific culture. The LGBT community definitely has a culture, and we feel it is important to celebrate it through our pride events and events such as The Dinah. I think it is very important that mainstream society knows about our lives. The more society as a whole recognizes the fact that our lives are really not all that different than that of society at large, the sooner the LGBT issues of equality will be resolved favorably. It’s about putting a human face to our LGBT community to break stereotypes.

Do you think it is still important for the LGBT community to have events like the Dinah?

Events such as The Dinah offer a space in time to celebrate out loud. There is still a majority of gay women who live in hiding having to pretend to be someone else ... simply because their environment forces them to.

It’s hard for those of us who have the freedom to walk the streets holding hands and kissing our partner to fathom the fact that our lifestyle is not the same for a majority of others, but rather is the exception. We take for granted the fact that our reality is still a dream many wish would come true. The Dinah offers gay women from all over the world the opportunity to escape for five days from the rest of their 360-day life … and provides them the freedom to be who they are.

I believe it provides a glimpse of what life would be if everyone were accepting of each other, no matter what the size of their body, the color of their skin, and/or the tax bracket they belong to. Simply put, it is a testimony of how perfect the world would be if we could all be free to feel free!

What is your favorite job-related story?

I have so many. I liked it when the city made me deputy mayor for the day, and Tim Ellis asked me if I would sign off on his parking ticket. That was a no, apparently. Katy Perry was a career highlight to date. Meeting lesbians from small towns whose eyes are so big at the sights they see … always makes me smile.

Can you share a little-known fact about yourself?

I used to dress up as a cowboy when I was 5 and stand out in the middle of our neighborhood street and demand a quarter from cars driving by. Oh my God. I just realized something: I haven’t changed.

What can you tell us about The Dinah 2014?

The Dinah 2014 is going to be off the hook! I have a major act lined up that I am really excited about! We’re expecting another blockbuster this year.

Published in Community Voices

The 2013 Palm Springs Pride Festival, held at Sunrise Park on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 2 and 3, drew tens of thousands of people over two days.

Temps in the low '80s greeted attendees, who perused booths offering everything from underwear to animal adoptions to newspapers (including more than 1,600 copies of the Coachella Valley Independent), and enjoyed performers ranging from Richard Simmons to Berlin.

When we had more than one person manning our booth, Independent editor Jimmy Boegle wandered through the festival to take some pictures of the goings-on. Check out the photo gallery below.

Published in Snapshot

In late 2002, I was talking to the publisher of the Tucson Weekly about the editor’s job. I was working for what was then a corporate sister paper, Las Vegas CityLife.. The Tucson publisher, Tom, had apparently heard from my Las Vegas publisher that I was seeing someone—but Tom didn’t know the details.

“So, I understand you have a girlfriend in Las Vegas,” Tom said.

I suddenly faced a split-second decision—the kind of awkward and potentially damaging decision that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people face from time to time.

“Actually, I have a boyfriend in Vegas,” I replied.

Thankfully, everything worked out: I got the job (and would happily keep it for nearly a decade), and the boyfriend and I recently celebrated 11 years together. But far too often, things don’t work out when LGBT folks have to make the split-second decision whether to come out—even today, in 2013.

This brings us to this month’s fantastic cover story, which we posted online last Friday (Oct. 25).

Over the last few months, Brian Blueskye and I have been looking for older LGBT locals to profile for this Pride-themed story package. We wanted to honor generations of LGBT folks who—simply by living their lives—fought for equality and fairness, therefore paving the way for legal marriage, for federal benefits, and for people like me to feel comfortable telling the truth during a job interview.

Although we quite didn’t achieve the ethnic diversity for which we were hoping, I think you’ll agree that Brian did an amazing job of telling the stories of these normal, yet somehow also extraordinary, men and women.

• On another note: I want to personally thank everyone who played a part in the li’l party we threw on Wednesday, Oct. 16.

OK, so the party wasn’t so little. In fact, hundreds of Independent readers, contributors, advertisers and (what I hope will be) future advertisers came out to celebrate both our one-year anniversary online, and our move to a monthly print schedule.

Thanks to Brook and the folks at Clinic Bar and Lounge (where you can find me nursing a Maker’s and Coke several days a week), who made everyone who showed up comfortable and happy; Alex Harrington, aka All Night Shoes, who turned in an amazing DJ set (including a by-request Patsy Cline remix that blew my mind); The Vibe, whose appearance was something of a surprise, albeit a most welcome one; and Ryan “Motel” Campbell (with support from as Debra Ann Mumm and the rest of the Venus Studios folks), who created a stunning mural before our very eyes.

Most of all, I want to thank you, our readers—whether you were able to attend the party or not. Without you, the Independent is just a bunch of pixels or ink on newsprint. You’re what gives our new and growing publication life. Thanks for picking us up each month, and for pointing your browser to CVIndependent.com. Thanks for following us on Facebook, Twitter and even Google Plus. Thanks for frequenting our advertisers—and thanks for telling your friends about us.

Enjoy our special 2013 Pride Issue, hitting streets this week, and already posted online here at CVIndependent.com. And if you’re at Palm Springs Pride this weekend, please stop by our booth and say hello!

Published in Editor's Note

Fans of the McCallum Theatre’s Open Call talent project are familiar with Terry S. Larson, 51; he was one of the 2013 finalists in the renowned competition. Regulars at Studio One 11, at 67555 E. Palm Canyon Drive in Cathedral City, are also familiar with Larson: He works at the LGBT bar as a server and bartender—and wows audiences with his singing voice in concert every Tuesday at 6 p.m., and every other Friday at 8 p.m.; there is no cover. For more information, visit www.studio-one-11.com. The Inglewood native and Cathedral City resident was kind enough to recently answer The Lucky 13.

What was the first concert you attended?

Journey at the Forum in Los Angeles.

What was the first album you owned?

The Carpenters, Close to You.

What bands are you listening to right now?

I mostly listen to new Broadway cast albums, and Sinatra, Linda Eder, and Michael Buble.

What artist, genre or musical trend does everyone love, but you don’t get?

Kayne West.

What musical act, current or defunct, would you most like to see perform live?

The Carpenters.

What’s your favorite musical guilty pleasure?

Barry Manilow.

What’s your favorite music venue?

Studio One 11 in Cathedral City (where I sing each week). :)

What’s the one song lyric you can’t get out of your head?

“Where is love? Does it fall from skies above?” from “Where Is Love?” in the musical Oliver!

What band or artist changed your life? How?

Barbra Streisand. (I come) from a church background, (and) it was apparent to me they didn’t sing with a lot of sincere emotion. Her voice brought me into the real world.

You have one question to ask one musician. What’s the question, and who are you asking?

I would ask Patti LuPone how she could produce a tear while singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” every night during Evita.

What song would you like played at your funeral?

I would like Linda Eder to sing “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

Figurative gun to your head, what is your favorite album of all time?

Barbra Streisand, The Broadway Album.

What song should everyone listen to right now?

“With You,” from Ghost the Musical. (Scroll down to hear it.)

Published in The Lucky 13

Palm Springs is known for its large, vibrant gay population—and, therefore, for gay tourism as well.

Enter Desert Adventures, and its new Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour.

Headquartered in Palm Desert, Desert Adventures offers a variety of local Jeep tours to the San Andreas Fault, Joshua Tree and the Indian Canyons. One of Desert Adventures’ guides, Bob Gross of Rancho Mirage, had the idea for the new tour.

“The company was looking to expand our outreach and make sure both locals and visitors knew our tours were fun and available to be led by gay guides like myself or another guide, Carlos Salas,” said Gross, who joined the company about two years ago after retiring from AT&T. “As for the Icons Tour, specifically, things get kind of slow for us during the summer due to the heat, so I went to my boss and said I'd like to create a city tour that included some of the rich gay history of the city, from its earliest days right through the present, including some of the famous gay and lesbian residents and icons of the community who lived here. He said, ‘Have at it,’ so I spent July and August doing the research and creating a tour that I hope will be interesting and fun.”

The first stop is the site where Lois Kellogg, a Chicago socialite rumored to be a lesbian, arrived in Palm Springs in 1914 or so and built a large home that once occupied an area which now includes a Rite Aid store. The home had a Moroccan-Persian-style exterior and a large swimming pool, as well as a stable and guest quarters. That particular block of Palm Canyon Drive at the end of the downtown strip now looks completely different, and one has to wonder what the large home would have looked like there.

The tour also goes through the Warm Sands area. It was a family-friendly area during the ’50s and ’60s, before disintegrating into a high-crime area in the 1970s, and then being revived as a gay-resort area. Howard Hughes once owned El Mirasol Villas; it later became what’s believed to be Palm Springs’ first gay resort, in 1976. Close by is the Vista Grande—the first clothing-optional gay resort, which opened in 1984.

The tour stops at two of the homes that Liberace owned. The home on Kaweah Road has a sign that reads “Plazza de Liberace.” A miniature piano and piano stool serves as the mailbox for the home. Another former home on Belardo Road, where Liberace died in 1987, is currently being renovated to restore it to the state it was in when Liberace purchased it. It was said during the tour that Liberace had a large candelabra on the home, as well as a gate with a big “L” and a music note on it. While those markings are gone, and the home currently is a construction zone, it’s located behind Our Lady of Solitude, the church that was shown in the funeral scene in Behind the Candelabra.

The Gay Icons of Palm Springs Tour is available through Desert Adventures for $59 and runs about 90 minutes. For tour reservations or questions, call 760-324-5337 or visit www.red-jeep.com.

Published in Features

On the bar at Lulu—one of Palm Springs’ biggest and most popular restaurants (and a personal favorite of mine)—is a sign in a silver picture frame.

“We have an excellent selection of non-Russian vodka,” the sign reads, just below an image of a rainbow-colored martini.

Lulu is one of a number of bars and restaurants that are participating in a boycott of Russian vodka that is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

It’s a boycott that is well-intentioned. Unfortunately, it isn’t well-thought-out.

The roots of the boycott lie, in part, in a call by Dan Savage, a pundit, author and sex-advice columnist who is the editorial director of The Stranger, one of the Independent’s alt-media brethren, in Seattle. On Wednesday, Savage wrote a post on The Stranger’s website titled “Why I’m Boycotting Russian Vodka.” In the post, he chronicles increasing government-sanctioned anti-gay movements in Russian, including bans on gay-pride celebrations and violent attacks on LGBT groups and individuals. These horrendous actions have led many to call for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, which are being held in Sochi, Russia.

Savage points out that many of us can’t really participate right now in an Olympics boycott, since the vast majority of us aren’t planning on traveling to Sochi for the games. However, many of us do drink vodka. And therefore, he argues, we can send a message by forgoing Russian booze.

“If you drink a Russian Vodka like Stoli, Russian Standard, or any of the other brands … switch to another brand from another country, or even a local brand from a local distillery,” Savage writes. “Stoli is the iconic Russian vodka and it's returning to Russian ownership in 2014. Other brands like Russian Standard should also be boycotted. Do not drink Russian vodka. Do not buy Russian vodka. Ask your bartender at your favorite bar—gay or otherwise—to DUMP STOLI and DUMP RUSSIAN VODKA.”

There’s no doubt that the well-intentioned boycott is growing. There’s also no doubt that the boycott is gaining attention.

Attention from Stoli, that is: The company is understandably concerned, and has issued a statement to the world condemning Russia's actions and promoting LGBT rights.

Of course, anyone who has attended any large LGBT event in recent years already knows that Stoli is engaged and supportive of the LGBT community. In fact, Stoli actually employs an LGBT brand ambassador, Patrik Gallineaux. (Full disclosure: Patrik is a friend.)

You can speculate that Stoli may cares more about LGBT dollars than LGBT rights. (After all, we gays love our vodka, don’t we?) You can also criticize Stoli for its over-glorification of twinks and single-digit-body-fat-percentage younger men in its LGBT-themed promotions. (But that’s a column for another time.) But you can’t deny that Stoli has done more to engage, support and be visible in the gay community than any other liquor brand, foreign or domestic—and that is a very good thing.

A recent lesson on the consequences of boycotts can be found in the state to our east. After the state of Arizona and Gov. Jan Brewer made the anti-immigrant SB 1070 into law in 2010, a group of musicians, led by Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha, organized the Sound Strike, a movement that discouraged bands from performing in the state of Arizona. In time, an impressive list of musicians ranging from Maroon 5 to Steve Earle to Ozomatli signed on with the Sound Strike.

Sound Strike was undeniably well-intentioned. After all, SB 1070 was a terrible, horrendous law with racist roots.

On one hand, Sound Strike was a success—for a period of time, a number of acts indeed cancelled concerts in Arizona, and/or refused to schedule dates there.

On the other hand, Sound Strike was a failure: The right-wing Republicans in the Arizona Legislature and notorious officials such as Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Gov. Jan Brewer didn’t care one whit about Sound Strike. They continued to fight on behalf of SB 1070 all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which rejected much of the law in 2012.

In other words, while Sound Strike had a profound effect on, say, fans of Ozomatli in Arizona, and well-meaning progressive nonprofits like the Rialto Theatre, it had no effect on the people who were responsible for SB 1070 becoming law.

Sound Strike eventually fizzled out, more or less, but only after harming at lot of people who were—like the Sound Strike organizers—opposed to SB 1070. (The boycott cost the nonprofit Rialto at least six figures.)

I see the same thing happening with this ill-advised Russian-vodka boycott. There's no doubt that this boycott could hurt the most gay-engaged liquor brand in the U.S. I also have no doubt that Vladimir Putin and other anti-gay leaders in Russia will suffer neither harm nor a crisis of conscience over this boycott.

That’s why when I head to downtown Palm Springs tonight for a cocktail, Stoli will be the liquor in my glass.

Published in Editor's Note

The 100 or so community judges were watching the sixth of 22 entries in the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s “In a Center Minute” Commercial-Making Contest.

Shortly after that sixth commercial started playing, the judges knew they were watching something special. In fact, when the commercial finished, the audience broke into a spontaneous round of applause.

The commercial—which would go on to take top honors in the contest’s student category—was made by College of the Desert student Daniel Meyers. Using dry-erase drawings, the commercial tells the story of Aaron, an 18-year-old who discovers he is gay as he is dealing with the death of his father. He goes on to find low-cost grief counseling and a community of friendship at the Center.

Meyers’ commercial, simply put, was amazing. (It’s the first commercial embedded below. Go ahead and stop reading, and scroll down to watch it; come back here when you’re done. Seriously. Go watch it.)

Impressive, huh?

The contest was the brainchild of Shann Carr, the Center’s outgoing volunteer coordinator. (Carr—a friend of the Independent—is returning to her stand-up comedy career full-time.) She joined her “Secret Meeting Volunteers” (disclosure: I sat in on some of those early “secret meetings”) to put on the contest as a gift to the Center.

When all was said and done, the contest received six entries from students, and 16 from the general public. Around 100 community members arrived at the Desert Regional Medical Center’s Sinatra Auditorium on Monday, July 15, to serve as judges at the aforementioned screening; two days later, many of the contestants and other community members were invited to the Sinatra Auditorium for a screening and the announcement of the winners.

While Meyers ran away with the win in the student contest, the mother-and-son team of Katy and Sam Wilkerson took top honors in the general-population category. Their impressive documentary-style commercial features clips of volunteers and members discussing the various services provided at the Center. (It’s the second clip embedded below.) This isn’t the first time that the Wilkerson family has made figurative waves with video cameras: Their short film The Pride of Palm Springs, about the inclusion of the Palm Springs High School marching band in the local pride parade, recently impressed audiences at the Palm Springs International Shortfest.

The two winners received $1,000, thanks to sponsorship by Hunters, Snowden Construction, the Coachella Valley Independent (yep, that’s us), The NestEggg Group, Southern Wine and Spirits, and Ripe N’ This World.

The second-place finishers—Cindy Kendall in the general-population category, and Cheri Smith (the daughter of a Center volunteer and also a College of the Desert student) in the student category—received $250.

All of the entries can be viewed at inacenterminute.com. The Center will use the entries at public events and for fundraising. They may also be submitted to local media as public-service announcements.

Katy and Sam Wilkerson signed up for the contest after someone at the Shortfest told them about it, Katy says.

“We thought it would be fun, and kind of up our alley,” she says.

However, the Wilkersons’ winning submission almost didn’t come to fruition. Sam's father and Katy’s husband, Steven, passed away rather suddenly during the contest period, on June 25. Despite the shock, Sam and Katy decided to press on.

“My husband would have wanted us to do this, and we decided to go on with it,” Katy says. “He was in the room with us the night we won.”

Understandably, the Wilkersons got a late start on filming: Katy says the day before the submission deadline, Sam went to the Center and did his filming after they talked to friends who were familiar with the Center. He then edited the footage—and had just enough good stuff to flesh out the documentary-style commercial.

“It all just flowed,” Katy says.

In the end, the commercial was just the latest honor for the family Wilkerson, which has been into films since Sam, now 20 years old, bought his first camera with birthday and Christmas money at the age of 10.

Sam was unable to attend the awards screening on Wednesday, July 17, because he was on a film shoot in the Los Angeles area. He’s now working as a pro in L.A. after learning film-and-editing ropes at Palm Springs High School.

And as for the commercial that left the audience cheering: A visibly shy Daniel Meyers told the audience on Wednesday that he based the character of Aaron on his own life. However, there is one big difference.

Unlike Aaron, he didn’t discover the Center until a bit later in life. He told the audience that he wishes he’d learned about it sooner.

Below: Daniel Meyers, the student-category winner, poses with LGBT Center volunteer coordinator Shann Carr; and Katy Wilkerson, the mom in the mom-son team that won in the general-population category, poses with Carr. Photos courtesy of the Center.

Daniel Meyers, the student-category winner, poses with LGBT Center volunteer coordinator Shann Carr. Photo courtesy of the Center.

Katy Wilkerson, the mom in the mom-son team that won in the general-population category, poses with Shann Carr. Photo courtesy of the Center.

Published in Local Issues

Shann Carr thinks that The Center—the Coachella Valley’s community center for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks—is grossly underutilized.

She says that when she discusses The Center with locals who are L, G, B or T, she learns that a shocking number of them aren’t familiar with the services it provides. “Half of them have never even been here,” says the center’s volunteer and community outreach coordinator.

Therefore, she’s decided that it’s time for The Center to get the word out—and that’s where its Commercial-Making Contest comes in.

(Disclosure time: I’ve helped Shann and her “secret meeting volunteers” here and there as they got the contest off the ground—and the Coachella Valley Independent is a sponsor of the contest. That's just how we roll.)

The rules for the contest, which can be found at thecenterps.org, are pretty simple: Anybody can sign up for the contest, and winners will be selected in two categories: One category is for the general public (i.e. anybody, from anywhere); and another is for students between the ages of 14 and 25 who have been enrolled in a school of some sort within the last year. Submissions of the 60-second commercials are due on Wednesday, July 10, and the winners in each category get $1,000 each.

And to make it even more simple, after contestants sign up for the contest via thecenterps.org, they’ll get an link to a resource kit containing pictures, PDFs, video clips and more that can be used in the 60-second spots. And if that isn’t enough, The Center and its NestEggg Food Bank will be open for contestants to come by and shoot their own footage each Thursday (preferably before noon) between now and the July 10 deadline.

So why a 60-second commercial contest?

“Because tiny bits of information are how people communicate now. Sixty seconds is as long as anyone will stare at anything anymore,” Carr laughs.

The Center hopes to use the winning commercials online, as public-service announcements on local stations, and at the numerous local festivals and events where The Center has a presence. The ultimate goal: for more people to know about all of the services The Center provides, from health-and-wellness activities to job-training to a computer center.

The entries are starting to trickle in, Carr says—and they include one contestant who plans on making the commercial using only a smartphone. However, she’s hoping for a larger turnout of contestants—especially in the student category.

“Some people won’t read an article, but they’ll click on a 60-second ad. It’s the lazy person’s article,” Carr says.

To enter or receive more information, head on over to thecenterps.org.

Published in Local Issues

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