Oh Dinah! Celebrating 20 Years of Sapphic Fun in the Sun
Once a simple gathering of women who love golf coupled with a host of house parties, Dinah Shore weekend has grown into the biggest lesbian party on the planet, according to promoters.
Actually, the weekend features a lot of parties. But the two major events are Club Skirts The Dinah!, run by San Francisco promoter Mariah Hanson, and GirlBar Dinah Shore Week run by promoters Robin Gans and Sandy Sachs. Both events take place from March 31-April 4 in Palm Springs.
The events are a weeklong lesbian love fest loaded with bikini clad women, golf enthusiasts, and a bevy of parties in the California desert. Both The Dinah and GirlBar are expected to be bigger and better than ever before, Mariah and Robin say.
The women are former business partners who used to run one event. But the business relationship dissolved in 2006 after a brief legal dispute and now the promoters compete to host the hottest lesbian celebrities, artists, and deejays to headline their parties.
Mariah and Robin didn’t want to discuss the split. Both stated that they have moved on.
Club Skirts and Girl Bar Productions promoters are both upping the ante and putting their imprint in their own significant ways more than ever before on the Dinah Shore Weekend.
Mariah says that Dinah Shore Weekend is a trend setting event that entertainment industry insiders watch and jockey to book their artists’ performances.
“We are looked at as this really powerful player within the festival circuit now,” says Mariah, who booked headliner Ke$ha this year.
“That’s a real coup for the lesbian community, because we are really looked at now as early adapters and trend setters,” says Mariah, who said she is setting the standard for queer and straight events. She continues to push the envelope, to have “Dinah Shore stand for the amazing quality of our community, that we are cutting edge, we are top notch, we are a force to be reckoned with.”
Unfortunately, this year’s top act, Rosie O’Donnell, canceled what was to be her return to stand-up comedy. Tickets were quickly refunded and the show was replaced with Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney‘s award-winning Off Broadway play The Kathy and Mo Show.
GirlBar‘s Robin and Sandy say that the weekend is now on the global radar as a destination vacation for Australians, Canadians, and Europeans. For the past five years Robin and Sandy have been promoting the weeklong festivities internationally. The lesbian duo split romantically two and a half years ago after 19 years together, but they remain business partners, Robin says.
“The one thing that we’ve worked on the most is our international appeal,” Robin says.
Sandy wasn’t available for an interview.
Robin and Sandy have also brought in top acts to perform poolside at Girl Bar. Celebrity DJ Samantha Ronson, known for her relationship with actress Lindsay Lohan, will spin the music at the Pure White Party this year. They’ve also brought in global entertainment from Kelis, Kaylah Marin, Erika Jayne, Shontelle, and Yasmine and old favorites Michele Balan, Poppy Champlin, and Dana Goldberg.
“Everybody has gone to the Dinah Shore Weekend at least once or twice in their life,” says Robin, who pointed out that she, Mariah, and Sandy, are only the current promoters of the annual all-girl desert getaway that started in 1972 with Shore’s ladies golf tournament and private house parties. The parties really started to catch on with lesbians in the early to mid-1980s with corporate event producer Kathy Miller and Los Angeles-based lesbian club promoter Caroline Clone, who moved onto New York and Miami during the 1990s.
Attempts to locate Caroline for comment for this article were unsuccessful.
“We’ve all taken part in making this weekend huge,” says Robin of the promoters who made the weekend “one of the biggest women’s weekends in the world.”
Actual figures for how many women attend Dinah Shore Weekend and the nearby LPGA tournament aren’t available, according to Hillary Angel, public relations manager of Palm Springs Bureau of Tourism, but the bureau is aware of the “thousands of girls [that] flock to the desert!”
“We are happy to have them return year after year,” added Mary Jo Ginther, the bureau’s director.
Mariah and Robin estimate between 10,000 to 15,000 lesbians will attend this year’s events, based on ticket sales. Attendance is down from 20,000 women in previous years, according to media reports. Mariah and Robin both believe the decrease is due to the economy. Both promoters have created attractive packages to help make Dinah Shore Weekend affordable, they say.
Many of the queer women who will be baking under the desert sun while enjoying poolside cocktails or attending the LPGA’s Kraft Nabisco Golf Tournament might not have a clue about who Dinah Shore was or why the weekend that attracts so many lesbians bears her name.
An avid golfer, a popular Big Band era entertainer and 1970s TV personality, Dinah Shore, born Frances Rose Shore on February 19, 1916, partnered with Colgate in 1972 and founded the Colgate Dinah Shore Golf Championship (now called the Kraft Nabisco Championship). Shore used her Hollywood connections to boost the then-underfunded LPGA and professional women golfers. Today it is one of the four major golf tournaments on the LPGA tour.
Kraft Nabisco dropped Dinah’s name from the tournament after her death in 1994, but her memory lives on in the weeklong parties.
Shore never stated publicly her feelings about her name and the tournament weekend being hijacked by lesbians, but she also wasn’t known for being pro-LGBT rights or a feminist either. Shore is famously quoted, “I owe everything – my success and happiness – to men,” a sentiment reflected in one of her hit songs, “It’s So Nice to Have a Man Around the House,” according to media reports.
Dinah in the rough
Perhaps the LPGA organizers and sponsors demonstrated Dinah’s or their own feelings about homosexuality when they quickly removed her name from the golf tournament.
LPGA officials have refused to respond to reporters’ questions since Dinah Shore Weekend became a lesbian destination event and they didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.
Donna Hahn of Hahn Communications, and Dennis Belcastro, vice president of industry affairs for Kraft Foods North America and executive director and chairman of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, both denied past and present rumors of homophobia.
“This is not true at all,” says Donna about media accounts of Nabisco’s past consideration of pulling its sponsorship from the popular golf tournament. “We don’t have anything to do with the Dinah Shore Weekend. That is a separate event.”
“We have consistently stated over the years that this is not an issue with the tournament,” adds Dennis. “Our objective is to bring the world’s best women golfers to the desert for the pleasure of golf fans. We encourage all golf fans to attend the tournament regardless of their social lifestyle or sexual preference.”
Longtime lesbian golfers and originators of the Dinah Shore Weekend disagreed.
Caroline “Lina” Haines, 53, founder of Lina Shore Golf Classic, a charity golf event now in its 23rd year, say that for about 10 years there was a great deal of tension between the golf tournament organizers and Dinah Shore becoming synonymous with the lesbian parties.
Golf is a conservative game with conservative players and audiences, Carolina explained.
“It was pretty scary for a while,” says Carolina.
Kathy, 55, attended Dinah Shore Weekend in the 1980s to network, but ended up hosting private parties for professional women and pro golfers. She recalled fears of losing potential sponsorships and business if discovered at her all-girl parties.
“I wanted to help women. I wanted them to have a good safe place to go where they weren’t ‘outed,'” says Kathy, who only threw private parties that attracted up to 3,000 women at one point for fun and not-for-profit, unlike Caroline, Mariah, Robin, and Sandy, who are professional party promoters that throw huge public galas at hotels.
“I can’t tell you … how many times we had to drop kick Sports Illustrated out the front door trying to get into the party to see what pro golfers were there,” Kathy says.
Carolina didn’t blame tournament organizers and sponsors entirely for their homophobic reaction to the influx of out lesbians on the golf course. She also blamed some of the lesbians for their inappropriate behavior.
“There is something to be said about appropriate behavior,” says Carolina. “On a golf course you don’t see two women lying under a tree making out on top of each other at a nice country club while a televised event is going on. It was really bad press for Kraft.”
Robin plays down the public displays of affection as women partying at the country club “having a good time … like anybody else would,” but says, “it did bother some people.”
Carolina believes that several factors pushed tournament organizers and sponsors to distance themselves from the Dinah Shore Weekend events. Those included the PDAs at the tournament along with rumored lesbian pro golfers attracting lesbian fans; pro golfer Muffin Spencer Devlin’s public coming out in 1996; and finally, Sports Illustrated‘s 1998 spread devoted to the lesbian parties surrounding the golf tournament.
Carolina points out that while tensions have dissipated in recent years, the LPGA has focused on re-imaging women golfers by hyping up “all of the feminine women,” so that it isn’t “near the stereotyping of lesbians anymore.”
Robin believes the tournament’s organizers’ and sponsors’ position on the lesbian issue. She believes that it has changed somewhat.
“Quite honestly, I think they need us now,” says Robin, who provides a link to the tournament on the GirlBar Dinah Shore Weekend website. “There are certainly a lot of girls in our community that love women’s sports and women who play golf and they want to go to the tournaments.”
“For the most part the women act very appropriately, they are dressed appropriately, they are attractive sporty women that appreciate the game. That’s what the tournament should draw,” Carolina says.
Golf aside, there is something about Dinah Shore Weekend that attracts lesbians.
“People love to come out to Palm Springs … there’s just an attraction for the Dinah Shore period,” says Carolina, who sometimes collaborates with Kathy to organize her event, which has raised an estimated $400,000 for AIDS, LGBT, and women’s organizations since the late 1980s.
Partying with a cause is a tradition that Club Skirts and GirlBar promoters continue. This year Club Skirts is supporting Equality California – Mariah sits on the board – and GirlBar is supporting the Human Rights Campaign.
Mariah and Robin declined to state how much money they raise for organizations.
Mariah and Robin say they didn’t quite imagine Dinah Shore Weekend as it is today. They only had an inkling of the potential and a vision.
Robin says she captured a glimpse of that potential future years ago when women packed the GirlBar events.
“Did we envision it really blowing up? We had some of that in mind. We felt that it would … the L Word really helped kind of skyrocket it,” says Robin, referring to the Showtime series that filmed an episode at some of the parties.
And perhaps Mariah envisioned the possibility as well after she noted the events bursting at the seams.
In 1998 she told the Advocate, “We’ve come a long way. We try to provide a fantasy vacation. We want women to think they’ve died and gone to heaven.”
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