The annual White Party in Palm Springs, where promoter Jeffrey Sanker invites 20,000 scantily clad twinks, muscle queens, and daddies for a long weekend of PNP, easy sex, and sun, isn’t just one big dance orgy. It’s a boon for local businesses and a way to promote serious issues like gay marriage and workplace discrimination! Oh this is just ridiculous.
The White Party is, plainly, a place where thousands of gay men flock to from all over the world for a long weekend’s worth of oonce-oonce music and no-strings sex. I’m sure there are some attendees who do not partake in the more illegal aspects of the event, but let’s not pretend Sanker’s play den — which runs this Thursday thru Sunday — is actually an activist circuit party. It is not.
But that’s how Sanker is pitching it to The Desert Sun. And I don’t blame him! It’s about branding, baby, and the more people (particularly those who don’t attend) believe his White Party is a progressive gay community event that’s helping in our equal rights battle, the more he can get away with (i.e. noise complaints, drug reports, lewd sex acts).
A decade after former Palm Springs Mayor Will Kleindienst described it as a haven for drug abuse and public sex, the White Party is being heralded for its positive national impact. The annual party for gay men, which begins Thursday and continues through the weekend in Palm Springs, is an economic boon to the city. It typically draws 20,000 to 25,000 people and this year ticket sales are up 25 percent over last year’s record crowd. But promoter Jeffrey Sanker says the White Party is more than just a party now. He’s branding it as an event that introduces up-and-coming artists to the gay community and enlists their support for issues such as gay marriage.
Sanker has long raised funds at the White Party for gay-related charities such as the Desert AIDS Project. This Friday, he’s inviting party goers to have their pictures taken with Charo for $40 a pop to benefit the No On Proposition 8 (NOH8) campaign. That will show Charo’s support of the gay community while hyping her recent dance single, “España Cañí.” “She wants to embrace her gay fans,” Sanker said, “and let them take this song (from the) grass roots and make it grow.”
And there Sanker has identified what the White Party really is, besides a four-day sun-and-fun fest: a way for music acts to reach new gay fans. Because as we all know, once you get the gays, you get the girls. We’ve seen everyone from Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez (attendees) to Christina Aguilera and Toni Braxton (performers) have made appearances to re-up with their gay fan base. And for new acts, well, it’s a chance for exposure.
David Stern, publisher of the Los Angeles gay magazine Frontiers, compares it to the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival as an event for breaking new musical artists. “A recent example would be Lady Gaga, who (Sanker) got to perform at the White Party just before she exploded into the phenomena she is today,” said Stern. “Jeffrey had a great insight as to how talented she is and where she was heading. I remember when he suggested to Frontiers that we interview her, he joked with me to grab the interview while we could because she was going to explode. How right he was.”
Dyana Kass, marketing director of Interscope Records, says the White Party also is becoming more of a multifaceted event like Coachella. “I think it definitely has those kind of legs,” she said. “It’s beyond a dance. It’s more of a festival — not obviously as far as Coachella, but there are all different events and installations and happenings, so it starts to take on more of that festival type of feel.”
But to say the White Party is now a stop on the political activist circuit is a crock. We don’t pretend these drug-fueled Atlantis Cruises are family-oriented get-togethers, do we?
Other members of the gay community aren’t ready to brand an event that has often been called a bacchanal affair to raise political awareness. The managing editor of the gay publication The Advocate, refused to comment on the White Party’s role in getting celebrities to support gay issues, and activist groups didn’t immediately respond to emails or phone calls.
Even Stern calls it a stretch to say the White Party can brand celebrities as being supportive of gay causes. “To me, being supportive of gay causes means getting involved, speaking out, taking a stand and using your celebrity to help that cause,” he said. “It’s much more far-reaching than just performing at a party. Although again, using Lady Gaga as an example, look how much she has stepped up and spoken out for our community.”
Sanker says getting an artist to support a cause anywhere builds support for that cause. “Right now, Lady Gaga has 7 million people that she tweets to,” he said. “Her word carries a lot of power and she was very pro-active on the whole ‘don’t ask, don’t tell.’” Lady Gaga returned to the White Party in 2009 to perform a full concert at the Palm Springs Convention Center. She moved Sanker deeply with a toast after it ended. “We have it on tape,” he said. “She poured a glass of champagne and said thank you to all of her fans for making her who she was. And she said, ‘I will never forget you.’”
Of course she won’t — we’re her core fan base. But having musical artists perform for the gays is a far cry from running a advocacy event.
None of this is to say the White Party isn’t good fun. It is! If you’re into this sort of thing. But can’t we just let the White Party be what the White Party is, without forcing some homosexual agenda down our throats? See you by the pool.