Momentum building to preserve, promote city’s once hidden LGBTQ+ history
It’s no secret today that Palm Springs has been one of the epicenters of the LGBTQ+ community for decades. But finding proof of that, and any mention that those who helped shape the city in its early days were part of that community, has been a tall task.
“The word LGBTQ, the word gay, it’s a silent history,” said Ron deHarte, president & CEO of Greater Palm Springs Pride, during a recent Talk of The Town event put on by ONE-PS. “And you have to really dig deep to find reference to somebody who is gay who made contributions to our community.”
Anyone visiting the city today might have reason to doubt deHarte. Pride flags are abundant, the Arenas District is packed, and Mayor Christy Holstege recently proudly proclaimed that Palm Springs is “the gayest community in America.” Visitors flock not only to Pride, but other events, including the International Bear Convergence, The Dinah, and The White Party.
It wasn’t always that way. Talk to anyone who has lived in the city for a few decades and they’ll tell you that while it was well-known members of the LGBTQ+ community would be welcomed in the city, it was equally well-known that hotels, nightclubs, and other businesses kept that fact hidden or were forced to make it appear subtle in promotional materials that appeared in mainstream publications.
“You would have to dig deep to find references to gay and lesbians to the early history of Palm Springs,” deHarte said.
If the recent success of one new organization — The LGBTQ+ History & Archives of the Desert — is any indication, that history is about to emerge from the shadows. More than 1,000 people toured the organization’s inaugural display during this month’s Pride celebration, despite the fact it was tucked away in an auxiliary room of the Welwood Murray Memorial Library downtown.
Those who attended the library event saw historical artifacts in display cases and viewed multiple panels with details of significant moments in the history of the city’s LGBTQ+ community, all organized by decade.
David Gray, who co-founded The LGBTQ+ History & Archives of the Desert, told those in attendance during the Talk of The Town event he was buoyed by the success of the event and the fact the organization raised $700 in donations during its weekend run, November 4 through 7. He said he was equally excited that momentum exists to expand the scope and presence of the display in the city and beyond.
While education of current generations is important, Gray said that his organization’s efforts would ultimately pay off for future residents.
“One of the things this organization is trying to do is to collect artifacts,” he said. “We want to make sure we are documenting everything with a source, so it’s not just sort of hearsay. That way, researchers in the future have a place they can go to to find the real history.”
For now, Gray said, The LGBTQ+ History & Archives of the Desert is focusing on the basics. Donations will go toward building a website, purchasing archival appropriate storage boxes, and enhancing displays. There are no plans to place the collection on permanent display. Rather, he said, it will be designed to travel.
“We’re willing to let organizations borrow the panels,” Gray said, “but not the memorabilia.”
Something permanent is in the works, however, according to deHarte. He and others are leading a campaign to create an LGBTQ+ wall of honor and landmark monument, “someplace of significance in the city.”
“It’s something you would think Palm Springs would already have, but we don’t,” deHarte said, adding that he hopes to see it in place before the 40th anniversary of the city’s Pride celebration in 2026. “It really is meaningful when we look at how far Palm Springs has come and who helped us get there.”
Gray and deHarte agree that another meaningful gesture on permanent fixtures already in place in the city seems like a no-brainer. An estimated 25 percent of recipients of a plaque on the city’s Walk of Stars are members of the LGBTQ+ community but not identified as such on their stars. They hope to work with the Chamber of Commerce to affix that recognition on the plaques.
“If we don’t document the history, then there is no history for us to remember,” deHarte said. “And for those who come after us, how will they learn how we got to where we are today?”
How to help: Anyone interested in donating or helping The LGBTQ+ History & Archives of the Desert can reach out to the group via email at [email protected] You can also follow them on Facebook. Interested in the future wall of honor? Email organizers at [email protected].
ART CENTER EVENTS: Black Friday shoppers are being encouraged to shop local and shop small business this Friday at the Desert Art Center, where they can find the largest display of local fine art in the Coachella Valley from 10 AM until 7:30 PM. Artists will be at work creating one-of-a-kind pieces, offering a 10 percent discount on all gallery purchases. DAC is located at 550 North Palm Canyon Drive in uptown Palm Springs. Another event — Deck the Walls — is planned on December 3, when a new Winter show will open in the main gallery. That event, from 5 PM until 7 PM, features just-juried new artists and new work from all member artists. In addition, the Studio Gallery will be hosting a one-weekend-only, pop-up exhibit of fine art photography, abstract painting, and ceramics by member artists Malcolm Macdonald, Molly Preston, and Robert Rogers. Festive food and refreshments, as well as a holiday sweet-tooth table will be available.
AIRPORT ADVICE: Officials at Palm Springs International Airport (PSP) expect Thanksgiving passenger numbers to exceed pre-pandemic levels this year and encourage travelers to give themselves plenty of time to catch their flight. With record-breaking passenger numbers over the past five months, and more flights from Palm Springs this Thanksgiving, airport officials expect the terminal to be busy with nearly all flights being full. PSP recommends arriving at least 90 minutes prior to your departure. This will ensure you have plenty of time to park, check luggage if needed, and pass through security. The busiest time of day will be between 10 AM and 2 PM when more than 2,500 people are expected to pass through the security checkpoint. Wait times of up to 20 minutes are expected at the checkpoint. Turn here for the complete story and more advice.
TRAM SCHEDULE, MEAL: The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will operate on a special schedule during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, officials announced. The first tram up will be at 8 AM and the last tram down will be at 9:30 PM from Thursday through Sunday, according to officials. On Thanksgiving day, the tramway will be selling “Ride ‘n’ Dine” tickets which will include tram admission and dinner at the Pines Cafe. Dinner service will run from 11 AM until 8 PM. The holiday menu includes a mixed greens salad, choice of oven-roasted turkey, beef Burgundy or vegetarian lasagna, a selection of side dishes and old-fashioned carrot cake or pumpkin pie.
MIZELL EVENTS: The Mizell Center offers a widows and widowers program, chair yoga, bridge, and other classes and programs today, starting at 8 AM. The center is located at 480 South Sunrise Way. A complete list of today’s events can be found here.
COVID CARING: A weekly, peer-led Zoom space sponsored by the LBGTQ Center of the Desert is open at 11 AM to anyone who wishes to discuss what it means to care for ourselves and others in the times of the global COVID health crisis. Discussions range from the light and fun to the deep and moving. Pre-registration is required, and can be done at this site.
PARKS COMMISSION: The city’s Parks and Recreation Commission meets today at 5:30 PM via Zoom. Information on viewing the meeting, or speaking during public comments, can be found here.
NOMINATIONS OPEN: The Palm Springs Human Rights Commission continues to accept nominations today for its annual Community Service Awards that recognize individuals and organizations for “Promoting Universal Human Rights Close to Home.” Information about how to nominate a person or organization can be found here. The deadline for submitting nominations is Wednesday, December 1.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
BENEFIT RUNS: Registration for the city’s annual Wild Turkey Trot 5K is open now at runpalmsprings.com, as well as active.com and racewire.com. The event is held on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 25, at 8 AM, and offers entrants a chance to get in some exercise before Thanksgiving dinner. It starts at 100 North Palm Canyon Drive. Registrants for the event receive a T-shirt, a medal, and more. The run benefits local charities. Questions? Feel free to contact Molly Thorpe, the race director, at 760-413-6508. Another Thanksgiving Day run, which benefits Martha’s Village and Kitchen, is being held virtually this year. More information on that event, sponsored by Fortem Financial, can be found here.
STRUT AWARDS VOTING: Voting has started for the STRUT Awards, slated to be handed out next month in Palm Springs. The STRUT Awards are a people’s choice voting event designed to honor members of the local LGBTQ+ industry. Nominations were accepted in more than two dozen categories, and now it’s time to vote. You can do that by going here. Winners will be announced and celebrated on December 12 during an event at Margaritaville Palm Springs beginning at 6 PM. Tickets for the event can be purchased here.
ONLINE AUCTION: Modernism Week has announced that it will offer an online auction of intriguing and distinctive items, and customized architectural experiences, just in time for the holiday shopping season. The online bidding event, called the “Best of Modernism Auction,” will run eight days, from December 4 through 12, and will feature more than 45 unique architectural tours and experiences, exclusive VIP Modernism Week event tickets and experiences packages for February 2022, access to prime sold-out parties during Modernism Week, and uncommon, exclusive items not typically available to the public. The auction will take place at modernismweek.com.
DESERT JAM: The annual benefit for Palm Springs-based Well in the Desert — Desert Jam 2021: Jammin’ for the Well — is slated for Monday, December 6 at the Agua Caliente Resort Casino ballroom in Rancho Mirage at 6 PM. All proceeds benefit The Well’s work to feed and provide for those experiencing homelessness in our community. More information, including how to purchase tickets for the event can be found here or by calling 760-285-7297.
POLICE AND FIRE EVENT: The Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce is taking reservations for its annual Police & Fire Appreciation Luncheon, held Tuesday, December 7, from 11:30 AM until 1 PM at the Palm Springs Convention Center. More information about tickets and sponsorship opportunities is available here.