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28 Nov 2013

Free to Feel Free: A Chat With Dinah Shore Weekend Founder Mariah Hanson

Written by 
Mariah Hanson. Mariah Hanson.

Editor’s Note: A representative of the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce’s Athena Awards approached the Independent about publishing this Q&A with Mariah Hanson, the founder of one of Palm Springs’ largest annual events: the Club Skirts Dinah Shore Weekend, aka “The Dinah” (thedinah.com). The 2014 event takes place April 2-6.

Hanson is the recipient of the 2013 Athena Leadership Award, presented by the Palm Springs Chamber of Commerce. She—along with Carol Channing and Helene Galen—will be honored at the 2013 Athena Luncheon, at 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Renaissance Palm Springs, 888 E. Tahquitz Canyon Way in Palm Springs, Tickets are $85, or $65 for chamber members. To register or get more information, visit www.pschamber.org.

How does it feel to be recognized and honored by the city of Palm Springs with an Athena Award?

I am beyond honored, humbled and grateful to be receiving this award. To be singled out alongside such other distinguished and esteemed honorees, not to mention (being in) such stellar company of women, is, on a personal level, quite an amazing prestige. Just as importantly for me, as an LGBT American to earn such distinction at the local government level from both the Chamber of Commerce and the city of Palm Springs itself is simply incredible.

Why do you think events like the Athena Awards, which honor women leaders, are important?

Contrary to the stereotypical stigma, women are strong and empowered leaders. Yet we are only recognized as such when we adopt a more-masculine persona in business. I personally believe when we, as women, feel confident enough to also bring our feminine attributes into business—such as kindness and compassion, and absolutely own these qualities—we conduct kinder and more-empowering business for all. So yes, awards such as the Athena Awards are extremely important. Overall, it encourages women to take charge, to lead and to blaze forward, in a way that leaves a wake of empowerment and inclusiveness for other women—and men as well!

You’re celebrating 24 years producing the Dinah Shore Weekend in Palm Springs. What role has the city played in the overall success of the event?

Palm Springs has been an amazing partner throughout the 24 years I have been conducting business here. It’s a smart city, run by smart people, who “get it.”

As the saying goes: A rising tide lifts all boats, and Palm Springs appears to understand and fearlessly take that approach in its vision of the future. It is one of the many reasons it has once again reinvented itself and is now enjoying another exceptional renaissance. I honestly could not have found a better place to produce The Dinah than Palm Springs; and I am beyond grateful of the support and love the city and the community has given my event, my customers and me for almost a quarter-century now. It’s an amazing LGBT-supportive city, and this recognition shows just how truly hip and inclusive Palm Springs is. I look forward to The Dinah being here for another 24 years!

What was the most difficult obstacle you’ve had to overcome as a woman in the course of these 24 years producing the Dinah?

Some men I have worked with over the years don’t take women as seriously as they should, but that’s an endemic problem between the sexes and not one that I have ever felt inhibited by. Personally, when faced with sexism, rather than fight it, I’m more inclined to simply take another approach. What’s important is achieving your goals. If you do that, you’ve successfully fought sexism. Many roads lead to Rome, and as long as you get there, all is well.

On a personal level, what does the Dinah represent for you? And what got you hooked to want to produce it for 24 years?

The Dinah is a celebration of living out loud, of being heard, of being seen. When you break it down, at a fundamental level, isn’t that what we all want? For five days, I have the esteemed opportunity to make that possible for a lot of women who may not enjoy that kind of freedom when they return home. It’s incredibly rewarding, and I like to think it is life-changing for them.

What is it about The Dinah that is a life-changing experience for women?

Imagine living in a more-remote part of the country where being out may not be considered socially acceptable. Fast-forward to arriving at The Dinah, where thousands of women are living out loud, without the fear of being judged or bullied. Not only that, but they’re also embraced by an entire city that sends an unspoken message of: You’re worth it! That’s life-changing. Imagine being an older lesbian who has had to keep her love for her partner “in the closet” for her entire lifetime and then attends The Dinah—or perhaps just one of our many events. She then gets a glimpse into this public celebration of our lives. She surely must think: All that work and efforts to attain our rights was worth it. Look at this joy!

What do you think mainstream perception of the event is? And is it important that mainstream people know about it?

I think mainstream society looks at this event like they do any other event that celebrates a specific culture. The LGBT community definitely has a culture, and we feel it is important to celebrate it through our pride events and events such as The Dinah. I think it is very important that mainstream society knows about our lives. The more society as a whole recognizes the fact that our lives are really not all that different than that of society at large, the sooner the LGBT issues of equality will be resolved favorably. It’s about putting a human face to our LGBT community to break stereotypes.

Do you think it is still important for the LGBT community to have events like the Dinah?

Events such as The Dinah offer a space in time to celebrate out loud. There is still a majority of gay women who live in hiding having to pretend to be someone else ... simply because their environment forces them to.

It’s hard for those of us who have the freedom to walk the streets holding hands and kissing our partner to fathom the fact that our lifestyle is not the same for a majority of others, but rather is the exception. We take for granted the fact that our reality is still a dream many wish would come true. The Dinah offers gay women from all over the world the opportunity to escape for five days from the rest of their 360-day life … and provides them the freedom to be who they are.

I believe it provides a glimpse of what life would be if everyone were accepting of each other, no matter what the size of their body, the color of their skin, and/or the tax bracket they belong to. Simply put, it is a testimony of how perfect the world would be if we could all be free to feel free!

What is your favorite job-related story?

I have so many. I liked it when the city made me deputy mayor for the day, and Tim Ellis asked me if I would sign off on his parking ticket. That was a no, apparently. Katy Perry was a career highlight to date. Meeting lesbians from small towns whose eyes are so big at the sights they see … always makes me smile.

Can you share a little-known fact about yourself?

I used to dress up as a cowboy when I was 5 and stand out in the middle of our neighborhood street and demand a quarter from cars driving by. Oh my God. I just realized something: I haven’t changed.

What can you tell us about The Dinah 2014?

The Dinah 2014 is going to be off the hook! I have a major act lined up that I am really excited about! We’re expecting another blockbuster this year.

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