White Party’s return is music to the ears of tourism officials, past participants

An event that has seen everything from protests during its inception three decades ago to criticism just last year is expected to be welcomed back to Palm Springs when it returns later this month.

The White Party, a three-day circuit party launched in 1989 as a gathering for friends of LA-based promoter Jeffrey Sanker, is expected to draw thousands of gay men back to a city many consider a second home. Businesses and tourism officials are eager to welcome them.

“It is such a pleasure to be able to have it on the books again,” said Shannon Anderson, general manager of Hilton Palm Springs, the host hotel which is expected to sell out during the event’s April 29 to May 1 run.

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COVID-19 and Sanker’s death in 2021 resulted in cancellation of the event the past two years. But Chris Diamond, a part-time city resident and friend of Sanker’s, said he expects the party to be back in full force during its run at the Hilton and elsewhere.

“We’re so excited to be back,” Diamond said recently. “I feel a great honor to continue the White Party as executive producer and to salute and honor my friend Jeffrey and make it bigger and better than ever as we progress through the years.”

While the years have been kind to the event – growing from 300 attendees to an estimated 30,000 in 2019 — the community hasn’t always been so kind.

In 1990, picketing by protestors opposed to gay men flocking to the city in large numbers, along with an uncooperative Palm Springs City Council, proved to be roadblocks for the event, but Sanker pushed forward.

Drug overdoses and citations for public sex were reported in the 2000s, tarnishing its reputation in the city. And in 2021, a New Year’s party thrown by Sanker’s White Party Entertainment, Inc. in Mexico was criticized for creating what some labeled a “super spreader event” in an area ill-equipped to handle large gatherings during the pandemic.

Palm Springs police said they expect few issues with the event this year. Similar to The Dinah, Splash House and other music festivals catering to partygoers in the city, The White Party has implemented its own security and safety measures leading to fewer and fewer calls to police each year.

“Historically, we have not had an unusual rise in crimes during White Party weekend,” said Palm Springs Police Department Capt. Mike Kovaleff.

What the city has seen a rise in during the event is tourist dollars. Diamond said attendees are expected to come from “all over the world” to dance the weekend away to music supplied by DJs and performers. In the past, performances have included surprise celebrity appearances by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, to name a few. This year’s headliner is Paula Abdul.

“We anticipate the approximate economic impact to the destination, based on historical attendance, to be about $5.2 million,” predicted Randy Garner, senior marketing manager for Visit Greater Palm Springs. The organization manages the Convention Center, which will host this year’s kickoff and closing parties, as well as the Sunday T-Dance.

You can expect to find Bryan Vincent at those events.

Vincent, a Palm Springs resident, has been a White Party attendee since the beginning. He said he has fond memories and lasting friendships from his time at past parties.

“It served a purpose,” says Vincent, reflecting back on the early beginnings. “A need for a lot of people who wouldn’t have otherwise had a chance to be with a tribe or build a tribe.”

More information: For White Party details, including ticket availability and talent announcements, go to whitepartyglobal.com.

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