The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) remains the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization with more than 2 million members. Locally, significant reminders of the importance of human rights are clearly visible, such as the annual HRC Palm Springs Garden Party.
This edition marks the 18th year for the elaborate event (Nov. 4), and it celebrates local agents of change with The Advocate for Equality Award, an honor given to members of the community with a remarkable history of pro-active advocacy.
More than 800 individuals — a mix of LGBTQ individuals and allies — are expected to attend the celebratory afternoon, which features an open cocktail reception, silent auction, noteworthy speakers, and even several celebrity guests in tow. KMIR’s Janet Zappala is the emcee.
Palm Springs Life caught up with this year’s Advocate for Equality Award recipients — Barbara Carpenter, president of The L-Fund, and Ron DeHarte, president of Greater Palm Springs Pride — for an illuminating conversation.
After moving to Palm Springs nearly seven years ago, Barbara Carpenter and five other lesbians launched the grassroots organization, The L-Fund. The mission was clear: To provide financial grants to lesbians in temporary financial crises. Now, Carpenter is the president of the noteworthy enclave, which is a federally recognized nonprofit that provides many Coachella Valley lesbians in need with thousands of dollars in financial grants.
This wouldn’t be the first time Carpenter has been recognized for her valiant efforts. She and others involved in The L-Fund were honored with the Palm Springs Pride Stonewall Advocate of the Year Award 2016 for their outstanding work in the community. She also served as co-Chair for the National Center for Lesbian Rights 2017 Garden Party and served on the Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast Committee. She shares her journey with Palms Springs Life and importance of raising awareness on valley lesbians in need.
Barbara Carpenter: “I know, first hand, how it feels to make decisions based on need — and not choice; how it feels to be scared to death of not having the resources to get from point A to point B.”
PSL: What are your thoughts on receiving the Advocate for Equality Award?
Barbara Carpenter: My hope is that when one recognizes me they recognize me for all that I am — a lesbian, a woman, and a person of color, and that it helps them understand that equality is for every single one of us, not some of us. It also means that lesbians are seen, heard, and visible.
PSL: The L-Fund provides financial grants to Lesbians in temporary financial crises. Can you talk a bit about what inspired you to launch that with others?
BC: We felt very strongly that we had to create a vehicle to help lesbians because in many cases they had no family support. When a crisis occurred, they did not fit the guidelines of social services. For me, personally, I remember a time in my life when I needed help. I had recently come out, my family was in shock because I had a husband and three children and for them, my life looked exactly how they would have it look. Some time after coming out, I lost my job and reached out for help from a family member. I needed a little financial support until I started my next job. The answer I received was a harsh, “No!” It wasn’t because they couldn’t help, but because they wouldn’t help. You see, my life no longer looked like they would have it look. I know, first hand, how it feels to make decisions based on need — and not choice; how it feels to be scared to death of not having the resources to get from point A to point B.
PSL: What are most people not aware of when in terms of valley lesbians in crisis?
BC: I once had someone say to me, “I didn’t know that there were any Lesbians in the Coachella Valley with financial problems.” I was stunned by that statement and I really needed to sit with it and examine how this person arrived at such a conclusion. I realized, after a lot of thought, that raising awareness would be equally as important as raising funds. We needed to let this community know that there are lesbians that find themselves in financial crises with nowhere to turn and no one to turn to. Lesbians who, for the most part, work everyday, or receive social security but have no discretionary income.
PSL: What are some of the most surprising things you have learned by being a part of this?
BC: This is my first hands-on experience helping to organize a 501C3. I learned that starting a grassroots organization demands commitment, hours and hours, and days and months of putting the puzzle together. The vision, the mission, the criteria for giving, all of the moving parts. I learned that you have to show up to as many places as you can to shine the light on the organization. I learned that you have to give as much or more than you ever imagined. Most of all I learned that there are so many wonderful, giving, caring and conscious people in this valley, and that I am very lucky to be amongst them.
Ron DeHarte knows the importance of human rights. DeHarte champions the issue, in fact, mostly as chairman of the City of Palm Springs Human Rights Commission and also as president of Greater Palm Springs Pride, treasurer of the Consolidated Association of Pride, and a fourth-term board member for InterPride, the international association of Pride.
That’s quite a troika. Before making Palm Springs his home, DeHarte was at the helm of San Diego Pride.
Ron DeHarte: “We are in tiny Palm Springs and our Equality March had a thousand people.”
Since his move here, he’s remained diligent in matters of the heart, serving on the City of Palm Springs Police Chief’s LGBT advisory committee 2016-2017, Palm Springs Transgender Day of Remembrance committee, and the Palm Springs Transgender Day of Visibility Committee. He is also founding chair of the Coachella Valley Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast Coalition. Things took a bold new turn for DeHarte — and Palm Springs, when, in 2011, he ignited a spark into the Palm Springs Pride celebration by relocating all the Pride Festival events to downtown Palm Springs. The first year of that move in 2013 resulted in a surge in attendance and an economic boom that now exceeds $24 million annually. How does DeHarte keep it all going? Read on.
PSL: Your thoughts when you heard you were a recipient.
Ron DeHarte: Initially I was taken aback that I would be recognized. It felt a little strange. Normally, I am behind the scenes putting these programs together and recognizing somebody else. To be on the other end of the spectrum is quite an honor.
PSL: Why is it so vital now, perhaps even more than ever before, to step forward for human rights?
RD: Today, in particular, the importance of standing up and not being silenced, or silent, is the fact that the LGBTQ community is being wiped off the map. If the community does not stand up and fight for equal rights, they are not going to come to us. It has not been easy over the last 40 years, and it certainly won’t be easy in the next 40 years, just from what we’ve seen from the current administration. The fight is far from being over.
PSL: People want to be of service. What suggestions would you have?
RD: A lot of people are active in the resistant movement. They are active in the political movement in their everyday life. But many more people want to have their voice heard. This is more true than it has been for many years. What we are seeing is individuals coming out and participating in community rallies and activities, even if it’s a meeting in a club to gain a better understanding of the issues being brought forward.
PHOTO COURTESY OF RON DEHARTE
Or, even holding a placard in a march down Palm Canyon Drive. We are seeing that individual come out more and the perfect time of year is during Pride. We certainly expect in Palm Springs, a large number of people who aren’t active “political activists” to come to Pride. They want their voice to be heard and feel a part of something greater than their single voice. And that speaks volume in the halls of justice — to show the impact the community has. That it’s not just a small group of folks who are vocal here. I encourage folks to do that. We are in tiny Palm Springs and our Equality March had a thousand people.
PSL: Speaking of Palm Springs Pride, it’s become economically prosperous for the city and now the second largest event annually. Much of that is, in part, due to your leadership.
RD: I have been volunteering for Pride since 2005. We were at Sunrise Park and the baseball stadium. It served the event well for 13 years or so. What I didn’t care for was that it was hidden. It gave a feeling that you still had to be hushed. For us to remain hidden in park that was more than a mile away from downtown just did not feel right. We really started to look at how to move the event downtown and be part of the vibrant community. It took a few years to actually move the event [to its current location] and make it a free event and the significance of that was that it created an opportunity for everybody to come and participate — so that it was accessible to everyone regardless of age, or cultural of financial background. That’s what catapulted the growth of Pride Week in Palm Springs, going from an attendance of 10,000 to 15,000 to coming in over 125,000 people and two-dozen different official events we now have. The shift has made us more visible.
PSL: What do love most about what you do?
RD: Having an impact on youth in our community. And the cliché of “It gets better.” It really does get better. And the youth today are really no different than youth 10 years ago. They are experiencing the same process, the same emotions.
18th Annual HRC Palm Springs Garden Party 1:30-4:30 p.m. Nov. 4, at a location to be given upon ticket purchase. Tickets start at $75 for HRC Federal Club members. For more information, visit hrcpalmsprings.org.