Lesbians of the Coachella Valley
Bits and Pieces of History

Part of the Lesbian Legacy Project is to outline a history of lesbians in the Coachella Valley. A gathering of articles and dispersed information to paint a broad picture that focuses on lesbian, bisexual and trans women. A certain license is needed for any Lesbian History. Lesbians, Bisexual and Trans women in the Coachella Valley have had to hide their sexual orientation and expression. Some continue to do so. The reasons are many, criminal prosecution, loss of career, financial ruin, violence and family relationships among them. Some lesbian orientations and relationships are documented, others are based on hearsay and lifestyle. 

Nellie Coffman

A Place to Innovate For 100 years and counting, big thinkers have come to the desert to innovate and transform the way we live.
Palm Springs Life

Nellie Coffman, the “mother of Palm Springs,” is credited with transforming a tiny desert village into a world-famous tourist destination. Arriving in the Coachella Valley with her husband, Dr. Harry Coffman, and her two sons early in 1909, Nellie purchased a two-acre plot of land on the corner of what is now Palm Canyon Drive and Tahquitz Canyon Way. At the time, respiratory diseases were rampant, and the dry, hot climate provided a healing respite. The Coffmans opened a sanitorium they called The Desert Inn. Nellie, whose father had once managed the St. James Hotel in Santa Monica, was no stranger to hospitality. While her husband provided medical care, Nellie made patients feel like welcome guests by pampering them with delicious homemade food and top-notch service. Soon, word started to spread about this magical place in the desert with its healing properties and luxurious treatment. After reaching an impasse over what to do with the property — the good doctor wanted to continue helping sick people, and Nellie fancied herself a hotelier — the Coffmans divorced in 1914. Harry moved down valley and continued his work, while Nellie ended The Desert Inn’s relationship with the infirmed and continued to expand the hotel, eventually transforming it into world-class resort that remained open until after her death in 1950.

Dr. Florilla White

Gay community has shaped and influenced Palm Springs for decades
Tracy Conrad Special to the Desert Sun 
Published April 6th, 2018

Dr. Florilla White was an important citizen in Palm Springs. Her activities and guests were worthy of note in the newspaper. She was highly respected, yet variously described as “eccentric,” “unusual,” “free-spirited,” “independent” and other code words for lesbian. Dr. Florilla White was a trained medical doctor and arrived in Palm Springs in 1913 after having escaped from the start of the Mexican revolution, saving her sister Cornelia with whom she had been pioneering at an American residential colony. Florilla made her way to Sinaloa to rescue Cornelia. The two were forced to abandon their possessions in Mexico and made their escape only by traveling more than 100 miles on a railroad handcar sitting on their guns.

Sewing Circle 1920's to 1950's

The Golden Age of Screen 1920's to 1950's “Sewing Circles”

Sewing Circle was a phrase to describe the underground closeted lesbian and bisexual film actresses and their relationships in Hollywood, mainly during the 1910s to the 1950s.

Palm Springs was a favorite playground for the Sewing Circle. Away from prying eyes and behind the tall hedges, the spirit of Sappho could fly free. Some never married, some were in lavender marriages (married to a gay man), some were bisexual, some were married to straight men to fake it and probably a few were experimental and curious. ​ The list includes:

Agnes Moorehead
Alla Nazimova
Barbara Stanwyck
Dolores Del Rio
Dorothy Aznerm
Eva Le Gallienne
Evelyn Brent
Greta Garbo
Hattie McDaniel
Janet Gaynor
Jean Acker
Joan Crawford
Josephine Baker
Josephine Hutchinson
Judith Anderson
Katherine Hepburn
Kay Francis
Lana Turner - Frank Sinatra found her and Ava Gardener in bed together in his house and threw them out.
Lena Horne
Lilyan Tashman
ELizabeth Scott
Louise Brooks
Marjorie Main
Marlene Dietrich
Patsy Kelly
Peggy Fears
Tallulah Bankhead

Eadie Adams - Desert Knight Hotel

LGBTQ+ History: First Lesbian Hotel in Palm Springs 
Palm Springs Life


Established in 1969 by Eadie Adams (1907-1983) and her partner, Rosalle (Pat) McGrath (1909-2001), the hotel was known as The Desert Knight, 435 E. Avenida Olancha, in Palm Springs for 30 years. In the book, Palm Springs Babylon, the Desert Knight attracted many visitors including Gloria Swanson.

Adams was an American singer and film actress. She appeared in several films between 1935 and 1937, and was the first female singer with Kay Kyser and his orchestra. Prior to March 1936, Adams sang at a night club while studying acting for six months. After that, she gave up singing to focus on her work in films.

Adams first visited Palm Springs in the 1930s, hanging by the pool with show biz people at the two high-end resorts at the time, The Desert Inn or the El Mirador Hotel.

She moved out permanently in 1961 and began a real estate career. Adams eventually opened her own real estate firm in the mid-1960s with a client list that included Willam Holden, Steve McQueen, Marty Martin, and Natalie Wood.

In 1999, the hotel continued to cater to lesbians but changed names to the Queen of Hearts Resort. Michelle Secor owned and operated the hotel from 1999-2014. Today it is no longer a lesbian hotel, but is operated as Little Paradise Hotel.

A second women's hotel Casitas Laquita opened in 1998. It is a one acre, 15-suite property located among the palms and bouganvillea inside a private, gated compound. Originally built in the 1940s, owners the hotel was renovated by Joanna Funaro and Denise Roberson 

Dinah Shore Golf Tournament 1972-2022

Dinah Shore was not gay, but The Dinah Shore Golf Tournament initially attracted lesbians who liked golf.... then the parties started. The Dinah Shore Tournament begins a migration of lesbians to Rancho Mirage and the surrounding areas. Some spend winters here, some live here full time.

Photo is Dinah Shore with Althea Gibson in 1972

Althea Gibson was a pioneer in tennis long before she became a pioneer in golf. She desegregated the U.S. Open tennis championships in 1950, several years before becoming the first Black champion at the U.S. Open and at Wimbledon. Later, Gibson turned to golf, and, in 1964, at the age of 37, became the first Black LPGA Tour member. She never won on the LPGA, but finished in the Top 50 on the money list every year from 1964 to 1971.

Nationwide in the 70's and 80's.

The Gay Rights movement picks up speed.

Harvey Milk in San Francisco asks all gays and lesbians to come out of the closet.

In 1981, shortly after becoming a United States citizen, Martina Navratilova gave an interview to New York Daily News sports reporter Steve Goldstein, coming out as bisexual and revealing that she had a sexual relationship with author Rita Mae Brown, but asked him not to publish the article until she was ready to come out publicly. However, the New York Daily News published the report on July 30, 1981. She will lose millions in endorsements

Tennis champion Billie Jean King is outed by an ex-lover in the early 1980s and loses millions in endorsements.

But public attitude is changing slowly. There is a smattering of lesbian-themed mainstream movies that portray lesbians as something other than predators and villains.

Personal Best was released in 1982.with Mariel Hemingway

Lianna (1983)

Desert Hearts was released in 1985. It's the 1st full-length lesbian movie that doesn't end in tragedy.

I've Heard the Mermaids Singing  (1987)

1986 - Desert Women's Association and The Gay and Lesbian Alliance

The Desert Women's Association was formed in 1986 with Emily DiSimone as president. It starts with five members who organize potlucks and BBQs for local lesbians. Noticing the enormous lesbian migration during the LPGA tournament, The Desert Women's Association throws the 1st pool party and dance for attendees. DWA posts flyers in the golf tournament restrooms to draw a crowd, and 500 people show up for the pool party.

1987 1st DWA Newsletter for Lesbians

DESERT SUN June 1988
Gay Pride weekend celebration nears PALM DESERT - The desert's third annual Gay Pride Weekend celebration will feature two performances by impersonator Charles Pierce on July 2. Pierce's show has been described by critic Rex Reed as a "don't miss'' event. Pierce will perform in Palm Desert. McCallum Theatre. The main hall of the Bob Hope Cultural Center complex. Two shows will be held, at seven and 9:30 pm. Proceeds will benefit the Desert Business Association. Ticket prices are $15 for balcony seats, $25 for orchestra, and $50 for Founders Circle, and may be obtained at all Ticketron outlets or by calling 340 ARTS in the Desert Gay Pride The weekend continues July 4 with Country Fair at the Villa Resort in Cathedral City. Desert Women's Association and the DBA are cosponsors of the Country Fair.

DESERT SUN July 31, 1989
By JEFFREY POTTS Staff writer CATHEDRAL CITY - "Out is in" read a T-shirt on sale at the Gay Pride Country Fair on Sunday. That exhortation -- a catchphrase intended to encourage homosexual people to be outwardly proud of their lifestyle - was perhaps the best explanation for the turnout at Gay Pride Weekend events, organizers said. The country fair, which began as a mere picnic three years ago, drew more than 2,000 people onto the grounds of the Villa Hotel, 67-670 Carey Road, organizers said. Emily DiSimone, president of the Desert Women's Association, said the turnout was more than double the number that attended the fair last year. The association of predominantly lesbian members sponsored the fair in conjunction with Gay Pride Weekend.

Gay Pride Weekend was designed to raise community consciousness about the gay community - some 20,000 people - in the Coachella Valley, said Donald Cannata, a spokesman for the Desert Business Association. It is an organization of largely gay businesses that organized the weekend events. Thirty gay-oriented hotels in Palm Springs and Cathedral City were booked to capacity through the weekend, Cannata said. Weekend festivities kicked off Friday evening with a cocktail party at the Desert Fashion Plaza's South Court. More than 300 people attended

Photo is Ertha Kitt performing at Palm Springs Pride in 1989.

GLAD opens "The Center" at 773 Williams Street. July 1990

August 19th, 1990. The Center organizes the first gay and lesbian community picnic.

"The Center" opens a help line.
Sept. 1990.

Coachella Valley Gay Pride Fair Oct 1990. Formely sponsored by the Women's Business Association (social club for lesbian business women), WBA joins forces with GLAD and other gay organizations in the valley to sponsor the Gay Pride Fair.

GLAD Center opens June 1990

1990 Internet and Email become mainstream.

Event organizers no longe have to rely on word of mouth and lesbian publications. Lesbians worldwide are now at their doorstep. 

1990 Dinah Shore Special Edition published by The Bottom Line

Club Skirts - The Dinah 1991 


The first Dinah Shore event was produced as a one night party in 1991 by Mariah Hanson under her Club Skirts Presents The Dinah Marquee at the Palm Springs Art Museum. The early years had the event as co-produced by Hanson and Sandy Sachs and Dr. Robin Gans (promoters of Girl Bar in West Hollywood) beginning in 1992. In 2003 the TV show The L Word had an episode set as happening at the weekend, which helped heighten its visibility. The following year, attendance doubled - the Saturday night party jumped to 2500 from 1200 the year prior. In 2005 the partnership between Hanson and Sach & Gans dissolved, with competing Palm Springs parties happening the same weekend. That state continued until 2012 when Sachs and Gans relocated to Las Vegas for an event which was called Girl Bar Dinah Shore Week Las Vegas. The event initially was viewed as a party weekend, with the New York Times in 2007 calling it "Girls Gone Wild for Girls" and Sports Illustrated calling it "lesbian spring break". Beginning in the late 2010s, the event started to rebrand itself as "the largest and most famous girl party music festival in the world" in an effort to move away from that image.

Desert Sun March 27 1992 - Mainstream Media

Pam Gilligan - Delilah's and Crazy Horse Productions 1994 to 1998

Delilah's was at 68657 Hwy. 111 Cathedral City, CA October 31, 1994 to July 21, 1998. Pam and Trish Gilligan were the managers. Pam was also the owner of Karzy horse productions


Desert Sun March 15, 1996
James Lee Pricer

Pam Gilllgan
Gilligan is co-manager of Delilah’s nightclub and Delilah’s Enclave hotel in Cathedral City and radio talk- ahow host. “Palm Springs' Most Famous Lesbian: It’s a title her friends teasingly gave Pam Gilligan last year after a large photo of her appeared in a Desert Sun story about lesbian activities during the week of the Nabisco Dinah Shore golf tournament. She laughs about it now, but for a couple of days in 1995, it wasn't funny. “I think I lost a job over it," she said. .

Immediately after the photos appeared, her supervisor called her, offered a set of excuses ' andt old her she “was no longer needed." “I was kind of stunned at first," said Gilligan, 34, “but then I realized it was their loss. I'm a good employee. Whatever my boss' fears were about homosexuality, those are his problems. His prejudices will stunt the growth of his company.” Her job loss was not unusual. But there are no real sour grapes here. Gilligan has prospered..“After I lost that job, doors closed, but doors opened and I walked right through," she said.

Gilligan co-manages Delilah's and Delilah’s Enclave in Cathedral City with her twin sister, 'Trish Owens. Plus she is co-host on “Out with Pam and Skip,” a radio talk show‘that airs on KDES, 920. AM, from 10 to 11 am. Saturdays.

"People accept homosexuality on differnt leveles. The media give lots of play to gays and lesbians who act and look like way-out weirdos, she said. “Some people have the notion that gay people,have sex 24 hours a day and are living with freaky, perverted people," she said. “But most of us am just average people. I mean we go to work do a good job, go home and watch ‘Wheel of Fortune’ and ‘Jeopardy.”’

Gilligan said she presents herself as herself. No labels, just Pam. “I get to know people on the basis of my business ethics, on the basis of my abilities," she explained. “If they have a problem with my sexual orientation, I don't want anything to do with them I don’ t have time for their prejudice."

Pam Gilligan was also the owner Krazy Horse Events
March 20 1995

At first the parties were small, discreet and by invitation only. A few hundred women, most of them in professions, would trek to hilltop mansions and airplane hangars to celebrate the scores of their favorite players in the Nabisco Dinah Shore, Now, 11 years after those parties began, promoters from the Coachella Valley, Los Angeles and San Francisco host elaborate events that last for days and attract thouands of women from across the country and around the world. In the last decade, the Coachella Valley in mid-March has become the rallying point for gay women looking for a place and a reason to party. The annual gathering is the largest leshian event in the world. said Pam. Lesbians from Japan, England, Texas, Arkansas and New York. That is not the image tournament officials want to perpetuate, as steer media questions away from the lesbian entourages that follow some players and note in- stead the number of professional golfers whose families including young children accompany them on the LPGA tour. But the fact remains that from 15,000 to 20,000 gay women are expected in the Coachella Valley when the parties begin tonight. If prior years are any indications, promoters say, most of the party-goers will never set foot on a fairway. 

January 2003 - Pride Center moves to 611 South Palm Canyon

Desert Sun March 23 1995 

Lucy DeBardelaben  and Gail Christian

When Christian and DeBardelaben arrived in Palm Springs in 2003, there was no community to speak of for lesbians of color. They attended the Dinah Shore Weekend, an annual weekend-long mu-sic festival and pool party for lesbians, but were unimpressed. "Everyone was too young and too white," Christian said. The two came up with the idea for "Dinah in Color" — a party they would host during the same weekend, but with more of a focus on women of color. Everything grew from there. They started booking events at the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs. They quickly became known as local promoters for events involving women of color, but once they partnered with Marnie Hesson of the L-Spot, they were on the map with the entire lesbian community. The first Palm Springs Women's Jazz Festival emerged from that in 2013.

Lucy and Gail 2003 -2022

L-Fund 2012 -