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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Darrell Tucci is the chief development officer for the Desert AIDS Project, and he spearheads D.A.P.’s annual Dining Out for Life fundraiser, taking place this year on Thursday, April 25.

“Last year, we challenged people to become part of the B.L.D. Club—to commit to having breakfast, lunch and dinner at Dining Out for Life restaurants,” Tucci said, adding that D.A.P. is issuing the same challenge this year.

I am proud to say I was part of last year’s B.L.D. Club … and then some. In fact, I went a little crazy (in a good way) last year during Dining Out for Life: I wound up dining—or, at the very least, buying a drink or a snack—at 11 different participants last year, starting with coffee and a scone at Ristretto, and ending my night with a Maker’s Mark and Coke at the Tool Shed.

A lot of people joined me in meeting D.AP.’s challenge, and then some: Due to the generosity of the 75 participating bars and restaurants, Dining Out for Life last year raised a whopping $280,000 for D.A.P.—$50,000 more than the year before.

If you’re unfamiliar with Dining Out for Life, here’s how it goes: Local bars and restaurants agree to donate at least 33 percent of their sales on Thursday, April 25, to D.A.P. It’s that simple. Really. While D.A.P. volunteers will be present at most of the participating venues during the day—offering “I Dined” stickers and giving people the opportunity to make extra donations if they’d like—all people need to do to help D.A.P. is dine and/or drink at one of the participating restaurants and bars.

Find a complete and constantly updated list of participants at www.diningoutforlife.com/city/greater-palm-springs.

Dining Out for Life is held on behalf of HIV/AIDS service organizations in 45 cities across North America on the last Thursday each April. Even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smallest markets—if not the smallest market—that participates, last year’s $280,000 was the second-largest amount raised in any city. Only Denver, which had three times as many restaurants participating, raised more money.

Why is Dining Out for Life so successful in the Coachella Valley?

“We have a secret sauce that’s a combination of a few important ingredients,” Tucci said. “First, the restaurateurs in our valley really embody our valley’s philanthropic nature.

“Second, this valley has been at the forefront of the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic since day one, and today’s inhabitants embody that. At Dining Out for Life, we see a dedication from attendees that’s almost like the dedication people have when going to vote.

“People wore that ‘I Dined’ sticker as a badge of honor, just like the ‘I Voted’ sticker on Election Day,” Tucci said about last year’s Dining Out for Life event. “We’d never ran out of stickers before.”

Tucci isn’t exaggerating when he touts the generosity of local restaurateurs; last year, the top three fundraising restaurants in North America—yes, the entire continent—were all located in Palm Springs: Spencer’s Restaurant, Lulu California Bistro and Trio Restaurant.

Then there are the smaller restaurants that give literally everything they have, and then some, on Dining Out for Life day. Tucci said he was amazed, for example, by the generosity of the Holiday House Palm Springs last year: Not only did the restaurant give 100 percent; the owner then matched that 100 percent donation. And at Rooster and the Pig, the restaurant gave 100 percent—and the staff donated all of their tips for the day, too. Other 100 percent participants last year included The Barn at Sparrows Lodge, Ristretto and—at 110 percent—Townie Bagels.

“All of these restaurants that participate, whether they’re giving 33 percent or 100 percent—not one of them is making money that day,” Tucci said.

This incredible generosity is needed more than ever by the Desert AIDS Project. While the origination remains one of the top HIV/AIDS service organizations in the world, D.A.P. is now also much more: As a Federally Qualified Health Center, anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client, getting access to doctors, prescriptions, dental care and behavior-health care. In fact, roughly half of D.A.P.’s clients today are not living with HIV.

Seeing as more than half of the Coachella Valley’s residents now live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, D.A.P. is struggling to make sure everyone who needs quality health care in the valley can get it. To meet the demand, D.A.P. is in the midst of a $20 million expansion, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.

Every dollar raised during Dining Out for Life makes a huge difference. As for the aforementioned scone and coffee at Ristretto I bought to kick off Dining Out for Life last year … with Ristretto giving 110 percent of that sale to D.A.P., that $8 purchase wound up paying for three safer-sex kits. I went to Rio Azul Mexican Bar and Grill for dinner with two friends; we spent $120, and with the restaurant giving 50 percent, $60 went to D.A.P. to pay for three free, confidential HIV tests. I dropped in and had a drink with a party of about a dozen or so friends, most of whom were dining there, at Zin American Bistro; seeing as Zin donated about 75 percent of that check, about $340 went to D.A.P.—enough to house a low-income client for a whole month.

Follow me via the Coachella Valley Independent’s Facebook page on Thursday, April 25, as I try to match or even surpass my 11 stops from last year—and join me in visiting as many Dining Out for Life participants as possible. After all, the Coachella Valley has a lot of work to do this year to match the giving of last year.

For more information, including a complete list of Dining Out for Life participants, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/city/greater-palm-springs. If you know of a restaurant that you’d like to see participate in Dining Out for Life, get information at www.desertaidsproject.org/2019-dining-out-for-life.

A sold-out crowd of more than 100 people enjoyed nine fantastic cocktails—all made with Ketel One Botanical vodka—at the Third Annual Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship, held Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Moxie Palm Springs.

Carlos Argumedo, of Farm, was declared the champion of the event, earning an amazing 92 points (out of 100 possible) on the judges’ scoresheets. The tally was close—three points separated first place from fourth place. Argumedo follows in the footsteps of 2018 winner Hunter Broggi, of Lulu California Bistro (who also participated in this year’s event), and 2016 winner Sherman Chan, of Trio Restaurant.

Trio’s Garrett Spicher was the Audience Choice winner.

Nine bartenders competed in the event, which sold out for the first time in its three-year history. Each competitor made tastes of their drinks for each attendee, before making full drinks for the judges: Ketel One’s Leslie Barclay; Brad Fuhr, of media sponsors Gay Desert Guide and KGAY 106.5 FM; and representatives of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week’s beneficiaries: the Desert AIDS Project’s Darrell Tucci, and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert’s Alexis Ortega.

The championship is the highlight of Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, a production of the Coachella Valley Independent. During the week, which continues through Saturday, Feb. 2, participating restaurants create a special drink for the week, or highlight an existing drink from their menus, and donate at least $2 from each drink sold during the week to the Desert AIDS Project and the LGBT Community Center of the Desert. A complete list of drinks and participants can be found at PSCraftCocktails.com.

Below is a collection of photos from the event, taken by the Independent’s Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

Desert AIDS Project has started construction on the largest expansion since it moved into its current campus in 1998—a $20 million project, slated for completion in 2020, that will more than double the organization’s patient capacity.

This news about the expansion, called D.A.P. Vision 2020, may make some people wonder: Why such a large expansion? And why now?

Darrell Tucci, Chief Development Officer for D.A.P., says one word can answer these queries: Need. Specifically, there’s a huge need for quality health-care services in the area—and D.A.P. is stepping in to fill that need.

“This expansion is vital, because more than half of our neighbors in the Coachella Valley live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level (or about $24,000 per year, per person), and many of those people live without access to quality health care,” Tucci said. “We will be able to serve more people, regardless of their HIV status, without compromising our original mission of ending the epidemic of HIV in the valley. We’re not exchanging one for the other.”

While helping men and women dealing with HIV and AIDS has always been at the core of D.A.P.’s mission, the organization today serves everyone and anyone in need of quality medical care, regardless of HIV status, because it is now a Federally Qualified Health Center. Anyone in need of primary medical care can walk in D.A.P.’s doors and become a client—getting access to doctors, prescriptions, dental care and behavior-health care. In fact, roughly half of D.A.P.’s clients today are not living with HIV.

With the existing facilities, D.A.P. is struggling to fill this massive need—hence the expansion, which includes purchasing the county health care building next door, and joining it with the current main D.A.P. building. When the expansion is complete, D.A.P.’s 60,490-square-foot campus will be able to serve 8,000 patients, up from 3,900 in 2017. The dental clinic will be able to help 1,700 people, compared to 814 in 2017, while the behavioral-health-patient capacity will rise from 583 to 1,200.

The expansion will also include a 76 percent increase in the number of apartment units for low-income individuals on the D.A.P. campus, from 80 to 140 units. There is currently a three-year waiting list for such housing.

While the scope of the current Desert AIDS Project expansion is unprecedented, the organization has a long history of adjusting to meet the needs of both its clients and the entire Coachella Valley:

• In 1994; D.A.P. opened a satellite office in Indio to offer HIV and hepatitis C testing; D.A.P. also offered, and continues to offer, intervention and case-management services to the east valley’s underserved, largely low-income and Latino communities via its Indio facility.

• In 2001, recognizing that many people living with HIV were suffering from nutritional challenges due to a lack of steady employment, D.A.P. opened the Morris and Lila Linsky Food Depot to provide healthy food, grocery-store vouchers and nutritional guidance to clients in need.

• Due to the lack of affordable housing for people living with HIV and other chronic conditions, D.A.P. in 2007 opened the Vista Sunrise Apartments on the D.A.P. campus, with the support of philanthropist Philip Caplin.

• The following year, D.A.P. opened the first HIV-specialty dental clinic in Riverside County, on the D.A.P. campus, later expanded by philanthropists Georgia and Gerald Fogelson.

• In 2012, Annette Bloch—who continues to be one of D.A.P.’s most generous supporters—provided the funding for D.A.P.’s Cancer Care Center, dedicated to HIV-related cancer research, screenings, treatment and prevention.

• Due in part to the fact that the Coachella Valley’s rate of HIV infection is more than twice the federal rate, D.A.P. in 2014 launched Get Tested Coachella Valley, the nation’s first nonprofit-led, region-wide initiative featuring HIV testing, prevention, education and linkage to care. More than 81,000 residents have been tested to date.

• Since a lack of access to sexual-wellness information was contributing to an increase in sexually transmitted infections in the area, D.A.P. in 2015 opened The Dock, a walk-in, no-appointment-needed clinic offering HIV and STI testing, as well as linkage to care, and access to PrEP—a medication which helps prevent HIV—and PEP, which helps people who have been exposed to HIV.

Construction on the $20 million expansion is under way due to the generosity of many local businesses and individuals; in fact, D.A.P. has received approximately $13.15 million in funding commitments so far. However, that means D.A.P. still needs to raise nearly $7 million in order to make the complete expansion a much-needed reality.

Tucci said it’s in the entire community’s best interests to support D.A.P.’s expansion.

“If you know people affected by HIV, you should support us as we continue to expand as the region’s largest service provider supporting those who live with HIV,” he said. “If you don’t feel like you’ve been directly affected by HIV, you should support us because of the 40,000 or so people in the Coachella Valley who are without a primary care physician, because we can offer many of those people a medical home.”

The time for the expansion is now, he said, since advances in medical care and support services have made it so people who live with HIV can not only survive, but thrive.

“Short of a cure, we can stop the spread of HIV completely by identifying everyone with HIV and getting them proper health care, including medications that make (their HIV) undetectable and therefore not infectious,” Tucci said.

For more information, or to donate to the D.A.P. Vision 2020 expansion, call Christopher Ruetz, D.A.P.’s Director of Major and Planned Giving, at 760-656-8450, or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. For more information, visit dapvision2020.org.

Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life Breaks Records

If anyone ever needs proof that the residents of the Coachella Valley are a rather generous lot, look no further than the results of the Desert AIDS Project’s Dining Out for Life (DOFL) fundraiser back in April.

First, a recap of how DOFL works: On one chosen day per year, restaurants across the Coachella Valley agree to donate at least 33 percent of their sales—from one particular meal, or from everything—to the Desert AIDS Project.

On April 26, 75 local restaurants participated, raising a whopping $280,000 for DAP—an increase of $50,000 from last year. An estimated 10,000 valley residents went to these 75 restaurants that day.

“You couldn’t go anywhere without seeing someone wearing a ‘badge of honor’—the ‘I Dined’ stickers given to diners at participating locations,” said event manager George Nasci-Sinatra, according to a news release.

That’s impressive. However, it’s even more impressive when these numbers are put into context.

Dining Out for Life is a nationwide (plus Canada!) campaign held the last Thursday in April every year by various HIV/AIDS service organizations. Representatives of all of these campaigns gathered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., for the North American Dining Out for Life Conference in July to compare notes. Well, it turns out that even though the Coachella Valley is one of the smallest markets participating in Dining Out for Life, we rank No. 2 (!) in terms of money raised.

“Only Denver, which had three times more participating restaurants, raised more funds this year,” said Darrell Tucci, the chief development officer for DAP. “To be the smallest market in population driving the second-largest results is absolutely extraordinary and something we should all be proud of. Other markets have more participating restaurants, but no other market can boast the level of commitment shown by restaurants in greater Palm Springs.”

The main reason for the local Dining Out for Life’s success is the sheer generosity of local restaurants: In fact, the Top 3 restaurants in the country (plus Canada!) in terms of the total amount of money donated are here—Spencer’s Restaurant, Lulu California Bistroand Trio Restaurant, in that order. They raised a combined total of $61,679.

It’s also worth noting the sacrifice of some smaller restaurants that elected to give 100 percent or more of the day’s proceeds to DAP: Townie Bagels, Holiday House, The Barn Kitchen at Sparrows Lodge, Ristretto and Rooster and the Pig. Heck, the wait staff at Rooster and the Pig even donated their tips for the day to DAP.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, I should note that I’m personally a supporter of the Desert AIDS Project; the Independent does business with DAP; and George Nasci-Sinatra and Darrell Tucci are good friends of mine.)

Will the Coachella Valley be able to top these fantastic results during the next Dining Out for Life, on Thursday, April 25, 2019? Stay tuned.

For more information as the 2019 date draws nearer, visit www.diningoutforlife.com/palmsprings.


The Ace Hotel and Swim Club Celebrates Its Annual Craft Beer Weekend.

It’s become a summer tradition for Southern California beer-lovers: The Ace Hotel and Swim Club's Seventh Annual Craft Beer Weekend will take place Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 4 and 5.

The weekend’s big events are a Craft Beer Festival from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, featuring entertainment, food and unlimited tastings (!) from some of the top craft breweries from SoCal and beyond; and a beer brunch at 11 a.m. on Sunday, featuring six beer-inspired and beer-paired courses—plus starting and ending beers, too.

Passes for the Saturday festival are $35, and the Sunday brunch will set you back $55—or do both for just $70. Attendees who book a room for the weekend get into the festival for free.

Get tickets and more info at www.acehotel.com/calendar/palmsprings/craft-beer-weekend-18.


In Brief

The Agua Caliente Casino Resort Spa, at 32250 Bob Hope Drive, in Rancho Mirage, has announced it has adopted new technology from a company called ORCA Digesters, Inc., that turns food waste into water. This will keep an estimated 624 tons (!) of food out of landfills each year. Awesome! … The Libation Room is now open at 73750 El Paseo, in Palm Desert. The new cocktail bar promises a speakeasy type of vibe; check it out Tuesday through Saturday from 4:30 p.m. on. For more information, call 877-869-8891, or visit www.libationroom.com. … The Manhattan in the Desert in Palm Desert, at 74225 Highway 111, has apparently closed. The Palm Springs location, at 2665 E. Palm Canyon Drive, is still alive and kicking. … One of the most happening outdoor-dining spots in downtown Palm Springs has been temporarily closed for a “facelift.” The patio at Tropicale, at 244 E. Amado Road, was closed on July 9 for a remodel that “should take about three weeks,” although the indoor bar and dining room remains open during construction. Depending on how that goes, and when you’re reading this, it may have reopened already! Call 760-866-1952 with questions.

Published in Restaurant & Food News

Five of the Coachella Valley's top bartenders met Thursday night, Nov. 17, at the Purple Palm Restaurant at the Colony Palms Hotel to battle for the first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Championship.

The event was one of the highlights of the Coachella Valley Independent's first Palm Springs Craft Cocktail Week, which ends tonight (Saturday, Nov. 19). 

One week before the event, the five contestants met at the Purple Palm for a draw to determine the order in which they would compete, and which of the five sponsor liquors they would use. The sponsor—Pacific Wine and Spirits of California—is donating $500 to each of Cocktail Week's charity beneficiaries: The LGBT Community Center of the Desert's Community Food Bank, and the Desert AIDS Project's Food Pantry.

Fernando Gonzalez of Cuistot Restaurant (using Nolet's Silver Dry Gin), Kevin Helvie of Chill Bar Palm Springs and Scorpion Room (using Crown Royal Vanilla), Sherman Chan of TRIO Restaurant (using Bulleit Bourbon), Michael Phillips of FIX a Dessert House (using Ketel One Oranj) and Joey Tapia of The New York Company Restaurant (using Captain Morgan White Rum) made tastes of their drinks for all attendees, who then each turned in a ballot with their favorite cocktail circled. Then the competition began in earnest, with each bartender mixing full-size drinks for each judge live while bantering with host Shann Carr.

The judges were Jonathan Heath of F10 Creative, Darrell Tucci of the Desert AIDS Project, Mike Thompson of the LGBT Community Center of the Desert, and Brad Fuhr of Gay Desert Guide.

After all of the drinks were made and tasted, and the results tabulated, Shann Carr announced the winners: Joey Tapia of the New York Company Restaurant won the Audience Choice Award, while Trio's Sherman Chan won the Championship.

Below is a gallery of photos by Independent photographer Kevin Fitzgerald.

Published in Snapshot

Gun safety is, and has always been, an LGBT-rights issue.

Granted, some of the most prominent cases of anti-LGBT hate crimes have not involved guns; the deaths of Matthew Shepard and Sakia Gunn were not due to firearms. Even so, the LGBT community is plagued by gun violence.

On May 13, 1988, Rebecca Wight and Claudia Brenner were shot while hiking the Appalachian Trail, because their murderer was enraged by their lesbianism. Wight died from her wounds.

On Oct. 15, 1999, Sissy “Charles” Boden was shot dead in Savannah, Ga., for being gay.

On July 23, 2003, Nireah Johnson and Brandie Coleman were shot to death in Indianapolis after their assailant learned Nireah was transgender.

On Feb. 12, 2008, 15-year-old Lawrence “Larry” King was shot twice by a classmate in Oxnard because of his sexual orientation. He later died.

Gun safety has always been an issue with the LGBT community. According to FBI data, nearly 21 percent of all hate crimes reported in the U.S. have been due to the victims’ real or perceived sexual orientation. However, our major LGBT organizations historically have not taken a significant stand on the controversial issue of gun violence.

But on June 12, 2016, 49 individuals died because of their sexual orientation, or because of their support of the LGBT community, at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla. This was a pivotal moment: A community has had enough—a community that is well-organized due to decades of fighting for civil and human rights. Our right to live without fear of dying at the hands of gun violence is now being fully embraced and is considered of paramount importance. Make no mistake: These are not special rights. These are not gay rights. These are human rights—and now this is our fight.

On Saturday, June 18, Equality California (EQCA) launched its new #SafeAndEqual campaign, not only to raise awareness that gun violence is an LGBT issue, but to declare that gun safety is an LGBT right and now a major policy priority. EQCA has signed on to numerous statewide bills and is proud to join other organizations, like the Human Rights Campaign, on federal efforts that will prohibit military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines; close gun-show and Internet-sales loopholes on background checks; and strengthen background checks and waiting periods to keep guns out of dangerous hands. EQCA will bring the full force of our lobbying efforts to pass them.

This is deeply personal. Pulse nightclub could easily have been Hunters or Chill Bar on Arenas, or Micky’s in West Hollywood. Those 49 people are sons and daughters, siblings, parents and young people with what should have been very bright futures. Most of them were LGBT people. They could have been me and you and 47 people we know here in the Coachella Valley. It’s difficult to remember in such an affirming community as Palm Springs, but the more visible we are as an LGBT community, the more vulnerable to violence and hatred we become.

As EQCA’s executive director, Rick Zbur, said: “Ending gun violence is also an LGBT issue, because LGBT people are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. Transgender women face epidemic rates of murder and violent crime. Hate crimes are on the rise throughout the United States, and members of communities of color suffer the highest rates of gun violence. In the weeks and months ahead, Equality California will relentlessly work in Washington, D.C., and in Sacramento, and mobilize our 800,000 members and the LGBT community to support legislation to keep our community—and everyone—safe.”

We all cope with tragedies differently. After the Orlando shooting, some of us attended vigils that doubled as rallies. Many of us were angry or sad. Many of us cried … a lot. I am a person of faith, and I’ve prayed for those who have passed and hold them in my thoughts every day. However, my tears and prayers alone will not change the culture in which we live. They will not bring 49 dear souls back to us. They will not remove killing machines from the hands of dangerous people.

However, 800,000 Californians, organized in lockstep with millions of others across this country pushing for real reform, will make a difference. It will require all of us to do our part and work together, but we can and will become #SafeAndEqual. I encourage you to start by adding your name at eqca.org/safe.

Darrell L. Tucci is a Palm Springs resident and a board member of Equality California.

Published in Community Voices

This weekend, downtown Palm Springs is being taken over by Pride.

It’s been an amazing couple of years for Greater Palm Springs Pride, and the LGBT community in general. The festival’s move from Palm Springs Stadium to downtown last year was a huge success. In fact, organizers say Palm Springs Pride is now the second-largest pride celebration in California, bested only by San Francisco Pride. After the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of marriage equality earlier this year, there is a lot to celebrate.

One of the most recognized symbols of the LGBT community is the rainbow flag. The flag was designed in 1978, with a lot of revisions since. Its colors represent the diversity of the LGBT Community, and it has been used for pride marches and equality-related protests.

For Palm Springs Pride this year, I thought I’d reach out to a handful of local LGBT community entertainers and leaders, and ask them one simple question: What comes to mind when you see a rainbow flag?

“The rainbow flag is a sense of pride, a sense of community, a sense of unity of where we are, where we have been and where we are going. Color Our World With Pride! Celebrate! Don’t be afraid to show some color.” —Bella da Ball

“When I see the rainbow flag, I am reminded of our community’s great diversity—diversity in our race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, religion and so on. We’re white, black, Latino, Asian and Native American. We’re men, women and transgender. We’re Christian, Jewish and Muslim. I’m reminded in bold, beautiful color that we are more than LGBT, but we represent everything between those letters.” —Darrell Tucci, Chief Development Officer, Desert AIDS Project

“Anal sex! No, I’m just kidding! My answer is simple: I always think of gay pride and community.” —Jersey Shore

“I remember marching with the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus down Broadway. It was my first time since coming out late. It started to rain, and we had a giant rainbow flag. You can imagine what it looked like when over 100 guys tried to take cover under the flag and still walk down Broadway looking fierce!” —Jeffrey Norman, Director of Communications and Public Affairs, McCallum Theatre (and an Independent contributor)

“To me, the Rainbow Flag is a celebration of the uniqueness and beauty of both the LGBT individual and the collective community. Each color is spectacular on its own, yet when woven together in community, it’s even more majestic.” —Mike Thompson, Chief Executive Officer, the LGBT Community Center of the Desert

“When I see a rainbow flag, I think of unity, love, strength, a sense of belonging, and, of course, pride.” —Tommy Locust, Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2014 and Chill’s house DJ (and an Independent contributor)

“People scramble to deem the flag irrelevant and (say) that this sort of demonstration of pride isn’t necessary, and many pretend that no one is struggling anymore. The history of the flag makes me feel grateful to be alive in a time where so much has changed for us and that an argument like that could even exist.” —Shann Carr

“Comfort, equality, progress. Lives were lost in order to have this flag erected. They are just colors to some, but for me, it’s so much more. I know if I see the pride flag displayed in businesses, I feel a comfort in knowing I can feel safe and will not be judged on my sexual preferences.” —Marina Mac

“To me, it means that the queer are here! On a serious note, the rainbow flag represents LGBT friendliness, and LGBT community is present and proud. Many places around the world, (LGBT people) can’t hang flags, and when one is present, it means that being gay is normal, OK. We are here, just like any other person.” —DJ Femme A

“I see pride, dignity, respect, hard work, love, compassion, diversity and equality. Over the years, the rainbow flag has been a symbol of pride in our community. It signifies the strength we have had to stay grounded! The colors are the diversity we enjoy, sharing equal respect for those who do not have the foresight into moving positively into the future.” —James Bork, Mr. Chill Leather 2016 and second runner-up, Mr. Palm Springs Leather 2016

Published in Features

Thirty years ago, in the middle of what was becoming the AIDS epidemic, the Desert AIDS Project was founded to help locals deal with the crisis.

On Friday, July 25, at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, the Desert AIDS Project will be celebrating its three decades with its annual Mid-Summer Dance Party. Playing at the event will be Independent resident DJ All Night Shoes, and DJ Femme A. Cameron Neilson, formerly on the television show X-Factor, will also be providing entertainment.

Darrell Tucci, DAP’s chief development officer, discussed how the organization began.

“A group of people locally saw what was taking place as far as the (AIDS crisis) was concerned in the 1980s,” Tucci said. “DAP became one of the first AIDS services organizations in the country in 1984. The Desert AIDS Project over the years has allowed itself to keep its fingers on the pulse of the epidemic, the needs of the people affected, and to grow and expand to offer the services that were needed along the way.”

When AIDS and HIV were first identified, there were few, if any, helpful treatment options. When asked what services were offered during the early years of the organization, Tucci offered a grim reminder of those days.

“Most AIDS service organizations started as organizations that could provide comfort,” Tucci said. “The earliest organizations were activist-oriented, not care-oriented, because no one knew how to provide care for a disease that no one understood yet. As those questions became answered, care was … provided. In the earliest days, buddy programs were developed: If you were living with HIV, and it was already isolating because of how it manifested in your body, another person in the community who may or may not be HIV-positive could be a buddy in your life to help support you emotionally or physically.”

Thankfully, the medical field began making progress in treating those with HIV.

“As more progress grew in medicine, medical clinics developed as federal government money started to be poured into it. Case management had to be created—to make sure people were eligible to receive services the government was paying for, but also to make sure people were dealing with the challenges of managing their own illness.”

In its three decades, the Desert AIDS Project has provided a vast number of services, from apartment-style housing for clients that sits behind the DAP campus on Sunrise Boulevard in Palm Springs, to social support, basic-needs care, and holistic and metaphysical care. Tucci said the Desert AIDS Project has also started offering dental care in recent years.

“Fifteen years ago, no one worried about dental care, because patients weren’t really living long enough. … Now that we have people living for decades, the No. 1 thing they told us four or five years ago is, ‘We need access to dental care, and we can’t afford it.’ So we developed one of the first HIV specialty dental clinics in the country. Two years ago, we expanded it.”

Some people have questioned the financials of the organization through the years. However, Charity Navigator, a site that ranks nonprofit organizations, gives DAP a four-star rating, the highest a nonprofit organization can have, and reports that DAP spends 81.6 percent of its budget on the programs and services it delivers.

“In total, we currently serve 2,300 people across all of the different services we provide,” Tucci said. “Right now, our budget is around $20 million. Our overhead expenses tend to hover between 13 percent and 18 percent per year, which is well below the federal guidelines of 25 percent. We run a very financially healthy organization, and we make sure that every dollar that gets donated here is maximized as to how it cares for our organization.”

Tucci said the upcoming Desert AIDS Project birthday celebration will be a much more relaxed function than usual.

“It’s been at the Ace Hotel for years,” Tucci said about the Mid-Summer Dance Party. “It’s usually about 500-plus people. It’s an informal event where there are no speeches, and there are no awards. Not that those things are bad, but it is the one time of the year where we bring everyone together to have a real party. We’re bringing in two of the valley’s best DJs. We’re bringing in Cameron Neilson, who used to be on The X-Factor and he’s going to do a couple of special performances that night. Being that it is our anniversary, we thought it was time to have a birthday party.”

The Mid-Summer Dance Party takes place from 8 p.m. to midnight on Friday, July 25, at the Commune at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club, 701 E. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs. Tickets are $40 to $75; the late-night party pass, which gains attendees entry after 10 p.m., is $20. For tickets or more information, call the Desert AIDS Project at 760-992-0440, or visit www.desertAIDSproject.org.

Published in Local Issues