In 2010, Ron deHarte joined the Greater Palm Springs Pride board of directors. He’d soon become the president of the board—and under his leadership, the Pride festival has grown from a fun but quaint event at Sunrise Stadium into a huge, weekend long party downtown.
In fact, it’s now the second-largest Pride festival in the state of California. Greater Palm Springs Pride events last year attracted an estimated 140,000 people—with a direct $24 million impact on the Coachella Valley.
This year’s festival, on Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 3 and 4, will again be in downtown Palm Springs—but it’s being moved off Palm Canyon Drive, and into the redevelopment area around the Palm Springs Art Museum.
We recently spoke to deHarte about the changes to this year’s festival—and what it means to celebrate LGBTQ pride in the Trump era.
Tell me a little about the changes that are occurring to Greater Palm Springs Pride this year.
The biggest change that people are going to see is that the festival is located in a new area in downtown, between Palm Canyon (Drive) and the mountain, from Tahquitz Canyon (Way) to Andreas (Drive). There will be two stages in there. All the exhibitor booths will be in there, as will a new PSP Village VIP space, which doesn’t require a ticket; everybody’s welcome. … Sober in the Sun is hosting an area for folks in the sober community. They’ll be able to have a space to hangout, and enjoy company of friends, and watch the entertainment on the big museum stage there. We will also have the Art of Pride, which is coming back. We haven’t had Art of Pride since we were in the ballpark years ago.
What was the reason for moving the festival off Palm Canyon Drive and back toward the museum?
The biggest reason is cost. To keep Palm Canyon closed for the amount of time we did, our costs are fairly significant in order to do that. Right now, our fees (from the city) are projected to be higher than what support the city of Palm Springs offers us from in-kind sponsorship, so that means Pride has to write a check to the city. … Those costs continue to rise, so one of the cost-saving measures that we were exploring was being able to locate the festival in the new city park space, and really start to see how we can use that space as the years go on. … This is just a first move to be in that area, and to keep Palm Canyon open for all the businesses and merchants, while at the same time cutting the costs for the Pride organization, which is important, because we want to stay free. We want to continue to be a free event, which just doesn’t happen in Southern California with other large festivals. We’re accessible and open to everyone. There are no financial barriers for people to come and participate and enjoy the day with their friends, and family, and coworkers—whoever it may be.
How do you feel seeing Pride going from where it was, at Sunrise Stadium in 2013, to where it is now—the second-largest Pride festival in California?
I think what we’re seeing is (part of) this renaissance of Palm Springs in general. Pride in Palm Springs has always been known as a friendly, laid-back pride, where people can come and just have a good time with their friends. What is most gratifying is to see that by moving downtown and being accessible to our entire community, attendance has increased significantly. … The number of women participating is not quite 50 percent, but we’re in the 40s, and we’re seeing a lot of families come and participate and spend time at the Pride festival. We’re seeing a lot of elderly couples come in, both LGBT and straight couples. … Sixty-plus percent (of attendance) last year was from out of town (visitors) at official events. Almost every state in the union was represented by folks coming into Palm Springs during Pride weekend.
How much money does Pride need to raise to put on the parade and the festival, and keep it free?
A direct, hard cost of the parade is going to be around $70,000 or $80,000. Participants (in the parade) do help cover that cost by paying an entry fee. Those donations will cover maybe about $15,000 of the $80,000 total cost. The parade is not a money-making event for the Pride organization; it’s all about bringing the community together in celebration and protest and raising awareness and educating. That’s what is really important. But it certainly comes at a huge cost, so we have to raise those funds in other ways, through sponsorships and other events.
Overall … we’re around $800,000 or $900,000 for Pride week activities (in terms of costs), so all of that money has to be raised through our partnerships, corporate support, and financial support through sponsorships. Exhibitors help. We have what we call a bucket brigade; we ask folks attending to put a buck or two in the bucket to keep Pride free.
Why has Palm Springs Pride grown and thrived, whereas in a lot of other cities, Prides are having tough times?
We have a reputation of being a friendly and fun festival. We’re so close to Los Angeles and San Diego and Long Beach; it’s just a quick two-hour trip for people. For a lot of people, it’s the last weekend before the holiday season begins, and it’s a great little getaway to have a good time in Palm Springs. … A lot of people have second houses here, so people have places to stay. There are a lot of free events, so it’s not going to bust people’s pocketbooks. When you travel to some of these other cities and have to pay $30 or $40 in admission just to the festival, that starts to take a bite out of your pocketbook.
What kind of meaning does Pride have now, given the political environment that we’re in—specifically, the Trump administration and a Supreme Court that may not be as friendly to gay marriage and other LGBT issues?
A Pride event is a platform to help educate a community, and raise awareness on a variety of issues. Some people use that platform as a form of celebration, and liberation, and empowerment. We strongly encourage people to use the platform to share their voices and raise issues that are important to them. Pride is many things to many people, and at the end of the day, we look at it as a platform to raise awareness and be a voice for the community. The community is the one who speaks the voice, and addresses the issues, and we encourage that.
Over the last several years, we’ve gone from having one local Pride festival—that, of course, being Greater Palm Springs Pride—to now, I think there are four. There’s Diversity DHS; there’s Eastern Coachella Valley Pride; there’s Cat City LGBT Days. What do you think about that?
The good news is that (the LGBT community is progressing) throughout the valley. To be able to see events with Pride themes popping up in, for example, the east valley is really a great sign of that progress. We may not always see progress directly, but when you see Pride events like this popping up, that is a direct sign of progress within communities, and city councils and business communities becoming more supportive, open and accepting. They all come back to bringing the community together to raise awareness on issues of equality and social justice, and focusing on making this area a better place for everyone.