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Canceled Nude Night Becomes a Real Drag for Desert Ball Club

July 16, 1996

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AP) _ After the Palm Springs Suns baseball team told the fans they would have to keep their clothes on, the next attempt to promote the struggling franchise turned into a real drag.

With the Suns clothing-optional night canceled because of too much interest, another promotion themed as a ``Priscilla, Queen of the Desert Night″ drag queen event may also be heading for publicity oblivion.

The Suns, an independent minor league team, has been struggling to fill seats. Monday’s game against the Bandits from Bend, Ore., drew just 473 to the 5,200-seat stadium. Averaging 755 fans per home game this year, the Suns have the worst attendance in the eight-team, independent Western Baseball League.

About a week ago, the team canceled plans for ``Nude Night,″ in which the team was going to provide a clothing-optional tent for fans. The promotion became the subject of monologues on ``The Tonight Show with Jay Leno″ and ``The Late Show″ with David Letterman before the organization called it off because too many people wanted to attend.

Mayor Will Kleindienst’s assessment of ``Drag Queen Night″ was about as grim as the reviews he gave the dropped nude night.

``They should be promoting baseball, and it seems they have been promoting anything else,″ he told The Desert Sun newspaper.

Suns public relations director Catherine Masters said she came up with the idea for drag queen night as a benefit fund-raiser.

``Everyone seems to think that (Suns majority owner Don) DiCarlo just wanted to fill the stands with drag queens, not to have a fund-raising opportunity for AIDS,″ she said.

Masters unveiled the latest promotion Saturday to benefit Desert AIDS Project and other Coachella Valley AIDS organizations. Based on the Australian film ``Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,″ the Aug. 9 promotion includes a drag queen contest, parade and AIDS education booths.

The proposed drag queen promotion prompted a backlash from the desert’s gay community, some annoyed by what they said was a perpetuation of stereotypes about gays and lesbians. Some gay-owned desert businesses withdrew support.

``Evidently, there were several people who were upset,″ said Curt Johnson, owner of Village Pride Coffeehouse and the Inn of the Three Palms Resort, the main sponsor of the event. ``They felt it portrayed the community in a light it didn’t need to be portrayed.″

Masters stressed the plan was to hold a campy benefit, not to exploit the gay lifestyle.

``This is just entertainment,″ she said. ``We didn’t want people who were vulgar or distasteful.″

Pam Troxler, the AIDS Project event coordinator, said the group hadn’t yet explored the proposal.

``We’re interested in anything that would provide that support. But we need to decide on the merits and how it would work,″ she said.

Masters said the Suns also are examining ways to share some of the proceeds with the Palm Springs-based AIDS Assistance Program.

``We’ve reached no decision,″ said Herb Lazenby, director of the AIDS Assistance Program. ``I’d like to see something more than a drag queen night.... Our organization has taken no official policy for or against it, but obviously we need the money.″