Mariah Hanson has always loved organizing a great party. Starting during her college years, she jumped at opportunities to bring people together and create an environment of joy and celebration. In that element, she thrived. Since then, she has spent the last 30 years pushing the boundaries of queer event planning and forged a path to become the greatest lesbian party-thrower of all time.
As creator of Club Skirts The Dinah Shore Weekend, which is fast approaching its 29th annual event in April, Hanson has taken the lead in organizing an event which exploded from ladies night into a five-day queer music and entertainment festival unlike any other.
“I always wanted to create community,” she said, “to provide an event that conveyed female importance and worth.”
Coming from the scene in the late eighties and early nineties, she noticed that lesbians were often marginalized, even within the LGBTQ community. She felt they deserved more pizazz than the dark and dingy bars they were used to occupying and had an idea. The initial concept started rather small and was based around a women’s golf tournament held in Palm Springs every spring. Lesbians would come to the small California city to watch the competition, and she noticed they wanted something to do after it was finished. Insert Club Skirts.
The debut Dinah sold out its first event in 1991, a party hosted at the Palm Springs Modern Art Museum. It was then that Hanson realized not only the need for, but the significance of, a large-scale event with a singular focus on women and femme-identifying people within the queer community.
“We need our very own spaces to celebrate our lives and the culture that is uniquely LGBTQ,” said Hanson. “While society is integrating more and more, we still need our own, singular events to unite us through the common thread of our shared experience as LGBTQ people.”
Hanson said that it hasn’t been an easy road, as she experienced pushback, obstacles, and prejudices from all directions.
“Palm Springs used to be a very conservative city, so the local response to our event was not always as welcoming as it surely is now,” she said. “We’ve worked hard to build relationships in the city and with the city.” Hanson explained how securing hotels and acquiring reasonable rates for guests has been and continues to be a challenge each year, as the event books at capacity in 100 percent lesbian occupied spaces.
As a queer woman in a leadership role, she also takes the responsibility of carrying all that goes along with those identifiers very seriously.
“I do realize how important the event is to our community, and that it is my responsibility to hold a powerful and expansive space for my customers.”
Hanson said that the Club Skirts staff hears amazing stories every year about how The Dinah changes lives, stories about women who spend five days at The Dinah and return home with a better vision for how their lives can be more fulfilling. For some, that means making huge changes, or moving, or coming out. That is what continues to inspire her to bring the event to even higher heights each year.
“The Dinah strives to be more than a party,” she said. “It serves to remind ourselves each year that we are a powerful and inspirational community, and we deserve the very best life has to offer. If we can change one life and make one person feel like they belong, we’ve done good work.
And after 15 years of good work, The Dinah decided it was time to up the ante in 2006, as they brought in the biggest entertainment act they had seen to date, The Pussycat Dolls. Since then, the festival stages have grown and seen queer and straight allied musicians like India.Arie, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Tegan and Sara, Ke$ha, and the Indigo Girls. Celesbians like Rosie O’Donnell, and The L Word and Orange is the New Black casts along with other queers and allies such as Margaret Cho and Pat Benatar have walked the red carpet, and big name sponsors like Logo Networks, Sirius Radio, and Showtime, Inc. have all partnered with Club Skirts.
Now, The Dinah is considered the largest lesbian event in the world. It draws in more than 15,000 attendees each year to the festivities inside the desert-city-turned-lesbian-oasis. With an initial lineup announcement for 2019, crowds can look forward to performances by Diiamon’d Royalty, Kodie Shane, Leikeli47, and a headlining performance by recently out, bisexual artist Daya.
“I do believe any journey, no matter how easy or fraught with obstacles, is the one you are meant to be on,” she said. “I’ve had great challenges with the Dinah, and also in my personal life, but everything I have ever gone through has served to make me a more compassionate and thankful person.”
Above all else, Hanson hopes that the people who attend The Dinah Shore Weekend walk away feeling an unlimited possibility, and that people feel connected to themselves and their community.
“Connection is vital to our personal growth, and The Dinah offers such amazing connections to other people. It reminds us of how much we really have in common, so much more than our differences, and it reminds us that kindness is contagious.”
Photos courtesy of The Dinah on Facebook