Greater Palm Springs Pride is one of the Coachella Valley’s biggest events—but the celebration’s reach goes far beyond the boundaries of the 760.
I worked at the Independent’s Pride booth last year and in 2019, and I met people from all around the world who came to Palm Springs for the excitement and jubilation that reverberates throughout the entire city. Greater Palm Springs Pride is back in 2022, with the main events taking place Friday, Nov. 4, through Sunday, Nov. 6.
“This is the 36th year that Pride has been acknowledged or celebrated in Palm Springs,” said Ron deHarte, president of Greater Palm Springs Pride. “In the early days, the entertainment focused around revue shows, and they took place inside the Riviera hotel, for a year, maybe two years. That type of Pride stopped, and there was a slow evolution to what we know today: a more-engaged community festival. The entertainment would continue to grow to where we are today, being the largest event that occurs in the city of Palm Springs annually, but also the largest gathering of LGBTQ people in the Coachella Valley on an annual basis.
“We’ve grown from a small ballroom setting, maybe 150 people or so, to something that has an impact of closer to 200,000 people over three days in downtown, with the parade and festival, and usually well over two dozen official events.”
Pride has grown, deHarte said, because the organization works to promote the Coachella Valley, in addition to being a human-rights organization.
“We’ve been partners in the tourism realm, and really focused on sharing Palm Springs as this beacon of diversity and embracing of the LGBTQ community,” deHarte said. “We’ve continued to grow, and we typically have folks from just about every state in the union. Nowadays, 8 to 10% of the audience comes in from Canada. We’ve always had a pretty good representation of folks from Great Britain and Germany, and what we’ve seen growing in the last four or five years or so is more folks coming in from Mexico and Australia, and in the last couple of years, folks coming from Japan and Korea. Palm Springs really has captured people’s attention, and they specifically are traveling to come and be part of the Pride celebration in the city that people just love coming to visit. … It has a different feel than Pride celebrations in other Southern California cities.”
The entertainment aspect of Palm Springs Pride has always been a huge draw, as thousands of attendees have caught performances by big names such as Third Eye Blind and A Flock of Seagulls in the past. This year, headliners include Todrick Hall and Pussy Riot.
“For a good number of years, we have intentionally tried to create that platform for LGBTQ artists, to be able to raise awareness, elevate their voice, and give them the opportunity to share their talent with the rest of the community,” deHarte said. “… We’re very heavy with LGBTQ artists all weekend, and we may only have one or two allies. It adds to the diversity; it adds to creating a platform for each of the communities, the Ls, the Gs, the Bs, the Ts, the Qs. Entertainment plays a big role in elevating each of our individual communities.”
DeHarte and company are excited to build off last year’s big “welcome back” party, following the pandemic-forced in-person hiatus in 2020.
“People were really ready to come out and be outside and celebrate with their friends and just connect with the community again,” deHarte said. “There was a social need that folks had to be together, and we had record-breaking attendance for sure. Last year, we also had the most positive post-event survey responses in our history, for as long as we’ve been gathering the data. … (This year), we’re going to have a strong year, attendance-wise. We may not hit 200,000 over three days, but it’s still going to be a very good year for the city and for the region.”
One of Pride’s most notable and constant participants is Main Stage host Bella da Ball, aka Brian Wanzek, whose role has evolved over the years.
“I started with Pride around 20 years ago,” Wanzek said during a recent phone interview. “I started by attending Pride, and then was in floats at Pride when I was with the drag group Delicious Divas, and I just kind of got involved through emceeing and hosting at the various locations. I think the first place that I emceed was when Pride was at the Palm Springs Stadium grounds. It’s grown through the years from there, and of course, through downtown and all different directions downtown. My primary focus and involvement has been with the entertainment—the stage management, coordinating the entertainment in the past, emceeing and hosting, and just being a big mouth and a big face with big hair.”
Wanzek’s involvement has allowed him to witness firsthand the growth of the festival and parade.
“It is just so impressive when you look out during the parade route, whether you’re in the parade or on the sidelines, at the thousands and thousands of people watching and cheering, and the energy and the motion and the movement,” said Wanzek. “When you’re on the stage or in front of the stage, it’s the fun, the energy, the diversity, the camaraderie and the creativity. I just get a tingle thinking about it.
“We’re a small little town, but we have a huge impact. We’re like Hollywood meets L.A. meets New York meets San Diego, and all rolled into one. It’s a very small-town feel with a very big-city approach, and a very big-city draw. It’s got the loveliness and the closeness where you can walk down the street, and you end up knowing 20 people, and you’re only taking two steps. You’ve got these big names who are going to be entertaining people, who have been on television and concerts all over the world. People are trying to create some difference in the world, and trying to create some warmth, and hopefully the world sees that. We’re like everybody else, and hopefully we’re all warm and cozy and fabulous and want to work together and love together.”
The diversity of Palm Springs Pride is directly reflected via the range of entertainers, which goes from drag queens to choruses to acoustic singers.
“The entertainment is from all over the world, and all the aspects and all the angles and diversity,” Wanzek said. “There’s just something for everyone—young and old, gay friendly, LGBTQ, families, individuals, singles, couples. There’s something for everybody to enjoy at the festival, at the entertainment stages throughout the area, at the bars and the restaurants with the displays out, the libraries and the museums and the artwork and theater. It’s not one little piece; it’s like millions of pieces put together of a huge puzzle that create this, ‘Say gay’ (this year’s Pride theme), and this, ‘We are Palm Springs and we love you and we welcome you.’”
For more information on Greater Palm Springs Pride, visit pspride.org.