White Party: A 3-Day Gay Extravaganza in Greater Palm Springs

Your White Party Primer

By: Brad Fuhr

Pool parties, dancing, DJs and more

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When Jeffrey Sanker received his star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame in 2014, he was surrounded by family, friends and, of course, celebrities. His parents, former Palm Springs Mayor Ron Oden and Carmen Elektra were at his side. Never far for the limelight, Sanker delighted in what he created in 1989: White Party.

“I had just moved to Los Angeles a year prior and visited Palm Springs. I was doing a night in LA called “Hollywood Boys Club,”and took my list from that (along with all of my closest friends), and invited them to Palm Springs for a "Spring Break Boys Weekend.” In fact, Sanker almost called it “Summer Camp for Boys,” but the event worked out to be a spring event.

“Five hundred people showed up, and we had three parties at the Marquis Hotel over the weekend,” Sanker recalls. “Manny Lehman was the DJ at all (the) events, and it really was magical. I decided that I would do this every year. At that time, being gay wasn’t as accepted as it is today, and I wanted a sanctuary for guys to be able to come, have fun and most importantly be themselves in a safe place. Palm Springs was that place.”

From that concept sprang the beginning of what Sanker called "fly-in parties.” This eventually turned into the term which became “Circuit Parties.”

As gay men from around the globe gather in Palm Springs again this May, they will be carrying on a tradition that started out humbly enough and then gathered steam through the decades of the post-AIDS era in the 90s and beyond. They would come to forget their troubles of the day and be able to celebrate in a welcoming environment. 

While Palm Springs is known as a mecca for LGBT travelers, its strong local gay and lesbian population certainly helped cement the city as the anchor for Sanker’s annual three-day extravaganza. White Party Palm Springs is one of the top LGBT events in Greater Palm Springs.

Today, the White Party brand extends across two continents and three countries as Sanker shows no signs of slowing down nearly 30 years later. 

Sanker is cautiously optimistic as he looks forward. “The future of White Party to me is one that continues to grow and evolve. The political climate now can be looked at as scary, but the gay climate has also changed. We have always been a strong group, now our voices are being heard, our opinions carry more weight, and our allies are many,” says Sanker. “I think that White Party celebrates this, as well as the diversity, the music, the magic and the camaraderie that comes from being gay.

“It used to be a fun escape to be able to be yourself, now it is not only that, but it is a celebration of how far we have come and how far we are going to go. I think White Party in years to come will reflect that.” 

In addition to White Party Palm Springs, Sanker now brings the party to Mantamar Beach Club in Puerto Vallarta and to Bangkok as Asia’s largest gay New Year festival. White Party 2017 is set for May 5-8 at the Renaissance Hotel Palm Springs with dance events at the nearby Palm Springs Convention Center. Find your perfect LGBT hotel in Greater Palm Springs here.

Jeffrey Sanker’s TOP 5 White Party moments: 

  1. The first huge celebrity performer, JLo (Jennifer Lopez) taking the stage in 2001. 
  2. Meeting, becoming friends with, and then having Lady Gaga perform.
  3. The first fireworks show closing the T-Dance 15 years ago. 
  4. Grace Jones running through the hallways naked at the Marquis Hotel after performing at the White Party. 
  5. Getting my star on the Palm Springs Walk of Fame in 2014. 
Featured photo courtesy of Jason King.
White Party: A 3-Day Gay Extravaganza in Greater Palm Springs
White Party: A 3-Day Gay Extravaganza in Greater Palm Springs
White Party: A 3-Day Gay Extravaganza in Greater Palm Springs

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