Two years ago journalist Anna Whitelaw savoured the delights of the world’s biggest lesbian party, the Dinah Shore Weekend. This week she remembers her weekend in the desert partying with thousands of lesbians as she packs her bags to do it all again.

I’m standing on the balcony of the Riveria Palm Springs and looking out over what can only be described as a sea of bikini-clad girls.

“Welcome to Dinah Shore,” says TJ, a San Francisco lawyer who is my newfound lesbian friend.

“It’s like lesbian heaven, isn’t it?”

While it took a fifteen-hour long haul flight, and a four-hour bus trip to this lesbian Mecca, it was worth it.

For the uninitiated, this is Dinah Shore Weekend, the biggest lesbian party in the world. Every year, in April, tens of thousands of lesbians from all over America – and all over the world – make the annual pilgrimage, descending upon the sleepy desert town of Palm Springs, a 2-3 hour drive from Los Angeles.

Ironically, this all started with a golf tournament. Dinah Shore was actually a Southern-born straight, conservative television star from the 50s who once dated Burt Reynolds and apparently had affairs with Frank Sinatra and Jimmy Stewart.

Born in Tennessee, she lived in Palm Springs and was a proud supporter of ladies’ golf. In the late ‘70s the annual LPGA golf tournament and the golf course on which its held, just outside of Palm Springs, were named in her honour.

Sometime in the ‘80s lesbians began coming to Palm Springs to watch the golf, and every year they just kept coming. Eventually lesbian party promoters began throwing all-girl parties and pretty soon the Dinah Shore Weekend was more famous for being a Sapphic schoolies week than a golf tournament.

Still today Dinah Shore Weekend is held on the same weekend as the LPGA tournament, but the organisers have tried to distance themselves from its Sapphic associations, changing its name to the Kraft Nabisco Championship.

Dinah Shore Weekend is in fact part of the gay revival going on in Palm Springs. In its 1950s heyday, Palm Springs was the holiday destination of Hollywood’s rich and famous, which is why all the hotels have a ‘50s retro feel and all of the streets in Palm Springs seem to be named after celebrities (“I’ll meet you at the corner of Bob Hope Drive and Frank Sinatra”).

But the town surrounded by a mountainous peak and wind farms experienced something of a slump from the 1970s until it was reborn as a gay travel destination.

Now, it seems, everyone who isn’t retirement age here is gay.

After being immortalised on The L Word, Dinah Shore Weekend now sees entire resorts taken over by girls running amok. The original Club Skirts’ Dinah Shore Weekend has been going for over 20 years, run by lesbian party promoter Marian Hanson.

By day, the hordes of girls frolic poolside drinking cocktails at the infamous pool parties. By night, they frock up for all-night dance parties including the Friday night White party and the Saturday night Hollywood-themed party.

Over the last few years, Dinah Shore Weekend has drawn some of the biggest female stars in music, including Lady Gaga – who wooed the crowd by telling them her song “Poker Face” was in fact about fantasising about a woman while in bed with a man, Katy Perry, Salt N Pepa, Ke$ha and the Pussycat Dolls.

Off the dancefloor Dinah Shore also attracts a stellar line-up of appearances by dykons such as Rosie O’Donnell and Margaret Cho as well as the cast of The L Word. This year Laurel Hollowman, better known as movie executive Tina, will grace her presence.

While spending a weekend with 20,000 dykes in the Southern Californian desert sounds like a Girls Gone Wild fantasy, in reality you find every kind of lesbian imaginable here. From glamorous femmes from West Hollywood to muscular, tattooed diesel dykes, and everything in between. Not to mention you’ll also find plenty of middle-aged lesbian couples from the mid-West wearing matching “I Heart Crotch” tee-shirts and dirty dancing to “I Kissed A Girl”.

“Dinah Shore gives us a chance to be ourselves and let our hair down without being hassled by homophobes and straight guys,” explains TJ who grew up in Georgia before moving to San Francisco after college.

But with the wet tee-shirt competitions, the jelly wrestling, the meet-and-greets with lesbian porn stars and the sex-toy demonstrations, Dinah Shore Weekend is a far cry from a gay pride parade.
Later that night I met Bec, a Texan girl, on the dancefloor. As we shared a cigarette she said, “Dinah Shore is not about gay pride. It’s like Spring Break for lesbians. I wouldn’t come here if I wasn’t single.”

Just at that moment another girl comes to drag her back onto the dancefloor. I wonder what the now deceased Dinah Shore would think about all of this.

Bec looks at me blankly “Who is Dinah Shore anyway?”

info: Dinah Shore Weekend runs from March 30 – April 3. Visit www.thedinah.com

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