Welcome to Dinah Shore Weekend, or, as it’s better known, lesbian spring break, which concludes today. An annual pilgrimage for more than three decades, it has attracted thousands of adult women to this mountain-ringed Southern California desert town, which becomes a destination for lesbians looking to party, socialize and hook up.
The name comes from the Kraft Nabisco Championship (formerly the Dinah Shore Golf Championship), the first stop on the Ladies Professional Golfers Association tour, which happens concurrently a few miles away.
In the years B.E. (Before Ellen DeGeneres), the Dinah was the province of mostly polo-shirted women seeking a low-key weekend getaway. Now, in the years A.L. (After “The L Word”), it has been transformed into a fashionable bacchanal, nearly a week long, with celebrity guests like Carmen Electra and Joan Jett, large pool parties and dozens of corporate sponsors, who vie for the attention of a community that is suddenly much more visible, and visibly wealthy. It’s Girls Gone Wild for Girls (and Marketing).
“It’s greater than a party,” said Mariah Hanson, a promoter behind the festivities who works under the name Club Skirts. “It’s a really powerful weekend that’s making a statement that we’re having a good time, and we’re going to be together. And there are a lot of major corporations here, and the more corporations embrace this market, the more it shifts everything. It gets us closer to civil rights.”
“It’s a lesbian rite of passage,” agreed Julie Bolcer, the news director of Go!, a national lesbian magazine, who came to the party. “This year I find that the amount of attention that is being paid, the sponsorships that are behind it, it’s almost palpable. If one were going to go to the Dinah, this is the year to do it.”
Just a decade ago, Sports Illustrated caused a financial and social brouhaha with an article in its golf supplement about the party circuit and its affluent, hedonistic attendees. As one of the first mainstream articles about the event, it drew the ire of prominent sports agents and advertisers, one of which withdrew more than $1 million in business, charging that the magazine had a “condescending mindset” toward women’s golf.
But after maintaining a resolute distinction for years, a marketing arm affiliated with Nabisco approached the promoters behind the Dinah weekend for the first time this year to discuss cross-promotion of the championship and the parties, the promoters said. Though nothing came of it, the promoters were excited to have even been approached. Many guests at the Dinah are not aware that this series of comedy shows, jazz brunches and cocktail parties coincides with a golf tournament. Instead they focus on the other facets the week is famous for: having a carefree good time and building community.
“With the advent of ‘The L Word,’ ” she said — referring to the series on Showtime that puts a sexy, contemporary gloss on lesbian life — “it’s brought us more to the forefront, but it’s always shocking for people when they come. They’re always like, ‘are all these people lesbians?’ Of course they are.”
The promoters bill the event as the world’s largest lesbian party and have made a concerted effort to market overseas. Women from Australia, France and Switzerland — where “The L Word” is just starting — as well as from places like Milwaukee and Kansas City, Mo., are joining in. Both sets of promoters said they expected this year to be their biggest yet, with about 4,000 guests each at their main parties on Friday and Saturday nights. Tickets for those cost $65 and $75 each; some women pay as much as $1,500 for V.I.P. tickets for the week, which includes concierge service and front-row seats for every event. Once an advertising pariah, the event has become an attractive place for companies to promote their wares, from clothing boutiques and brand-name liquors to television shows and sperm banks.
She added: “With the increase of lesbian visibility, brands now realize that women are a part of the gay market, not just men.”
“They’re loyal consumers and they’re really open to trying new and creative cocktails,” she said. And since Finlandia also sponsors the men’s White party, a gay circuit event that takes place in Palm Springs in April, Ms. Pompilio is able to do some armchair market research. Her conclusion? “The women drink 40 percent more than the guys.”
The Dinah is even robust enough to sustain competition: two years ago, the main promoters — Ms. Hanson, of Club Skirts in San Francisco, and Ms. Sachs and Ms. Gans, of Girl Bar in Los Angeles, worked together for 15 years before splitting up. “It’s like a marriage gone bad,” Ms. Sachs said.
The cause was irreconcilable differences as they worked together to build the Dinah from a niche event into a juggernaut. Now they have rival parties, one-upping each other on flash, conviviality and convenience, and jostling for the best guests, like Carmen Electra, Sandra Bernhard, Joan Jett and the cast of “The L Word,” who came to the Club Skirts party this year). . .
The breakup was hostile at first: papers were served, a lawsuit was filed and a settlement ended that chapter of the dispute. After some initial confusion about whose party was whose, the crowd seems to have taken it in stride. “If anything, I see it as a tremendous benefit,” said Ms. Schlecter, who has been attending for a decade, most recently as a collaborator of Ms. Hanson’s. “The parties have gotten bigger because of it, and when there’s competition, they have to outdo each other.”
By the Thursday night opening parties, the mood was even more unrestrained. Gail Schamanek, 57, a general contractor with elegantly close-cropped silver hair, a matching gray silky blouse and dark glasses, has been attending Dinah parties — and even some golf matches — since 1984. “This is the best women’s week on the planet,” she said, keeping her gaze focused on the go-go dancer’s platform. “Lots of eye candy.” She nodded in the direction of the dancer, who was busy doing splits, gyrating and taking money out of people’s mouths with her own.