How a Small Party in the Desert Became the Biggest Lesbian Festival in America

Dinah Shore Weekend is a celebration of women living out loud

The Dinah might be the coolest thing to ever come out of a golf tournament. What is now the largest annual gathering of queer women and their female allies, started as one of a number of small after-parties thrown over the weekend of a ladies professional golf tournament in Palm Springs. In 1991, nightlife promoter Mariah Hanson booked a local museum space to throw a party, and her event turned out to be such a hit that she kept bringing it back, watching it grow larger each year. This month (March 28-April 1), the now five-day extravaganza is set to attract well over 15,000 attendees.

“The first year I produced a Dinah party, I was blown away by the response I received and knew that I had tapped into a desire in our community for large-scale all-women celebrations,” Hanson says. “Once I started, I knew it would only get bigger and better.” 

Mariah Hanson with Megan Trainor at the Dinah

Photograph courtesy of Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend

The gathering, officially titled Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend, includes pool parties, live music, comedy, dance nights, and lots of opportunities to bond with other women. Crowds are entertained by an all-female lineup of live performers, this year including Snow Tha Product, Rapsody, and Madame Gandhi. Women make up Hanson’s entire team for the event, from the organizers behind the scenes to the bartenders serving the drinks, and it’s all part of her goal to create a safe, positive, woman-led experience.

“I wanted to create a product that rivaled the look of our male counterparts’ festivals,” Hanson says of what inspired her to launch the event. “Each year the women arrived in larger and larger numbers, and the city responded to the event with accolades and support, and the production level got better and better.”

The city of Palm Springs has been so supportive, in fact, that the mayor even gave Hanson a key to the city, which is just one of the many awards with which she’s been presented for her work with the Dinah—but awards aren’t what motivate her to work on the festival full-time all year long.

Pool Party at the Dinah

Photograph courtesy of Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend

“What touches me most is how much the event means to our community. It’s such a life-changing, life-affirming event, and that brings joy to those of us who produce it. We hear incredible stories of triumph against all odds, of coming out with little support, of feeling alone and isolated and then arriving here at the Dinah and being embraced by such community, solidarity, and support. It makes me smile just to think about it,” she says. 

Among the new expansions for 2018 is a partnership with OUTFEST, the L.A.-based festival that highlights the work of LBGTIA filmmakers to help increase female participation in the fest as entrants and attendees. Which fits perfectly into Hanson’s larger mission for the Dinah, which is all about creating visibility and empowerment for all women.

“The Dinah celebrates our unity, our solidarity, our common voice, and it creates an opportunity for everyone present to experience the vast diversity of our American culture,” she says. “Women of all backgrounds must be heard. We must stand together and rage against the patriarchal machine, in the most loving way possible.”

Katy Perry sings to Mariah Hanson at the Dinah

Photograph by Maile Klein / Courtesy of Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend

Just because it carries a serious message, though, doesn’t mean it’s not also a lot of fun. Hanson recalls surprising the crowd—including her own mother, who watched from the VIP area—with a poolside performance by Lady Gaga, and watching as Chaka Khan walked the red carpet, cracking a whip.

“The Dinah enables us to live out loud, outlandishly and outrageously, even if for just a few days,” she says. “Women find the event extremely powerful. Thousands of like-minded women, celebrating life on our terms, on our time, and in our space.”

The Dinah takes place March 28 to April 1, 2018 at various venues in Palm Springs. Individual event tickets and festival passes are available online.   

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