Gay Days returns to Disney World amid ‘don’t say gay’ clash

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After a three-year hiatus induced by the coronavirus, Gay Days returns to Orlando today as Pride Month begins nationwide and debate continues over the so-called ‘don’t say gay’ law. from Florida.

The annual celebration of the LGBTQ+ community, which traditionally includes a visit to Walt Disney World, takes on new meaning this year after Disney drew widespread criticism for its response to legislation banning discussions of gender identity and gender. orientation in schools.

As Gay Days draws more than 150,000 people to Orlando and its theme parks, some LGBTQ+ people drawn here remain critical of Disney’s initial response to the law, but hope the company has stepped up its efforts to support their community.

Disney guests who start Gay Days early on Wednesday said they don’t plan to change their plans because of the law. If anything, her response encouraged them to stand in solidarity with Disney’s LGBTQ+ employees and fellow fans.

“More than ever, I think we need to make our presence known, and we need to let lawmakers know we’re here,” said Eric Green, 52, of St. Louis.

Gay Days is “not a political event, but it is a statement,” Gay Days Inc. President Chris Manley told the Orlando Sentinel in March. The event is more than a trip to Disney, he said, and organizers believe the best way to protest the legislation is to continue to vocally celebrate the LGBTQ+ community in Orlando.

“We won’t be silenced because that’s where we lose,” Manley said.

The official Gay Days schedule shows scheduled visits for all four Disney theme parks plus Universal Orlando and SeaWorld.

Organizers plan to reach out to Disney after the event to “make sure we’re all on the same page of inclusivity,” Manley said Wednesday.

Disney bought an ad in Gay Days magazine featuring photos of someone wearing rainbow Mickey ears and gay and lesbian couples enjoying the parks. The ad begins with the phrase “Welcome to all who come to this happy place!”, quoting Walt Disney’s 1955 inaugural speech for Disneyland.

“During Pride Month and throughout the year, we want everyone at Walt Disney World Resort to feel seen and celebrated not only because of the environment we create, but also because of our meaningful contributions to the community,” Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger told the Orlando. Sentinel in a press release.

Disney is celebrating Pride Month by donating $100,000 to the Zebra Coalition, launching themed backdrops and photo opportunities at all four theme parks and Disney Springs, and selling food, beverages and limited-time themed merchandise throughout the resort.

Disney initially remained silent on parental rights in education legislation in March, but took steps to speak out against the bill after it passed the legislature. He suspended political donations in Florida, and CEO Bob Chapek issued a public apology and spoke with Governor Ron DeSantis before DeSantis signed the bill.

Critics called the company’s efforts too little, too late, and employees staged company-wide walkouts in protest. DeSantis criticized Disney for its actions, initiating a fight that led to the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and some conservatives boycotting the company.

Tampa’s Jeff Logan said Disney employees vocally opposing the legislation pushed Disney to do “enough to get [DeSantis] angry.” His visit to the park on Wednesday proved that the company has regained its confidence, he said.

“It’s my way of saying, ‘That may not have been the best answer, but it was enough,'” Logan, 54, said.

Although he said he was disappointed with Disney’s initial “non-verbal condemnation” of the bill, Manley said he was pleased with his response afterward, including a promise to donate $5 million to the LGBTQ+ organizations. The Human Rights Campaign has pledged to withhold Disney money until it sees the company make real progress on its promises to stand up for LGBTQ+ communities.

During Gay Days, organizers encourage attendees to wear red shirts at theme parks, following a tradition established at the first event in 1991. Thousands will wear the color in a show of unity and solidarity. recognition of LGBTQ+ history on Saturday, which marks official Red Shirt Day at the Magic Kingdom.

This year, Red Shirt Day also takes the form of a demonstration. Its official sponsor, the KindRED Pride Foundation, encourages attendees to wear red to Disney on June 4 “to remind Disney of how powerful visibility is.”

An official red shirt sold by Gay Days, Inc. proclaims “I’d rather say gay” a variant of a rallying cry against the law.

Gay Days and other LGBTQ+ events happening this week at or near Disney property are expected to draw large crowds.

The 655 rooms at the Gay Days host hotel, Avanti Palms Resort & Conference Center, are all sold out ahead of the event, chief executive Duane Dickson said.

Three host hotels have already sold out for the LGBTQ+ One Magical Weekend music festival, KindRED Pride Foundation board member Tom Christ said through a spokesperson. The event, which includes a dance party at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon water park, will be the biggest yet since it began hosting events at Disney in 2009.

A lesbian-focused music festival called Girls in Wonderland also takes place nearby, though its schedule shows no planned theme park outings.

Gay Days has a “tremendous” economic impact on the Central Florida community and helps make Orlando a welcoming international destination for LGBTQ+ travelers, said Tatiana Quiroga, executive director of Come Out With Pride. The organization is one of Gay Days’ community partners and will be a vendor at its Avanti Palms exhibit this week.

Pride celebrations like Gay Days bring much-needed visibility and representation to queer and trans people, including Disney employees who may feel marginalized, after the “terrifying” legislation, she said.

“It’s so important for us to have those proud moments, for us to be able to come together, to come together, to find strength in numbers,” Quiroga said.

For Boston resident Erin Kelley, Gay Days gives her 5-year-old son, Levi, the opportunity to see families like his celebrated in the aftermath of the “awful” law.

“It’s nice to get him to be able to ask questions and know that his family is different but accepted,” Kelley, 35, said. “…It gives us a place to be free.”

[email protected] and @katievrice on Twitter

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