A Short History of Disney World and Gay Days in Orlando

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What is Gay Days?

Orlando Florida’s Gay Days Celebration is not a single event. It is a total gay and lesbian vacation experience. Gay Days is comprised of multiple events staged at world famous attractions, gay & lesbian clubs, and unique venues secured for the purpose of creating a gay and lesbian atmosphere at Orlando's greatest theme parks and at multiple parties occurring during this long weekend. We have young, old, all races and beliefs, parents, gay AA groups, and every other section of our community attending Gay Days each year.

Gay Days began in 1991 as a single designated day (always the first Saturday in June) when the LesBiGay community and friends were encouraged to "Wear Red and Be Seen" while visiting the world’s most popular theme park. From it’s beginnings (spearheaded by the GLBT Community Center, local activists, businesses, and the online friends and users of Compu-Who) with 3,000 attendees, this one-day park visit has evolved into a week long, citywide celebration offering round the clock activities including multiple theme park visits, cocktail soirees, concerts, and a host of internationally renowned parties. Gay Days attracts over 150,000 celebrants from across the nation and around the globe!

 

Gay Days: Survivor

From the 2002 Gay Days Program

Since its inception in 1991, Gay Days has survived both criticism and indifference and has emerged as not just a survivor, but a winner. It's been attacked by the American Family Association, it's been besieged by undercover photographers attempting to covertly capture images of sexual misconduct in one of the favorite family playground, it's endured the dire prophecies of Pat Robertson, and it has suffered the indignity of signs at Disney entrances "warning" others of the presence of large numbers of gay and lesbian visitors. And for many years, it was pretty much ignored by the press and Orlando's hotel/motel industry.

Today, most of the controversy and apathy have disappeared. The protesters and the warning signs at the Magic Kingdom entrance have been replaced by smiling cast members welcoming Gay Days visitors with unscheduled entertainment at the Castle Forecourt, expanded park operating hours, and a fireworks display usually reserved for the peak summer season and holidays. Hotels and motels all over Orlando are signing the "Gay Days Friendly Pledge" and requests for interviews center around economic impact and entertainment value rather than conflict and comets from hell.

When 1 Gay Day became Gay Days

One sign of the event's refusal to die has been its relentless expansion. What began as a single-day visit to the Magic Kingdom has expanded to a weeklong vacation celebration attracting more than 135,000 Gay Days revelers to more than 40 citywide events. Attendees from across the nation and around the globe will infuse an estimated $100 million-plus dollars into the local economy. Year after year, old events continue and new events and new life is added to this annual event. Local business and club owners add to the excitement with special nights and expanded entertainment options aimed at Gay Days attendees. But the growth of the phenomenal event was gangly and chaotic, with no central hub of activity, no Gay Days information center, and most regrettably, no central agency to help visitors acquire tickets for the myriad of events. Gay Days was gaining popularity, but it was getting more and more difficult to plan for.

Web-Based Company Nets Gay Days Unity & Acceptance

When GayDayS.com launched in April of 1998, not only did Orlando's Gay Days gain an impressive state of- the-art marketing tool, it acquired the first ever year-round staff of professionals dedicated to establishing Gay Days as a fully recognized and respected addition to the Central Florida tourism and cultural calendar. In 1999, GayDayS.com/Gay Days, Inc., was added (albeit with some hesitation by the OCCVB) to the membership roster of the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Now GayDayS.com is a member of VISIT FLORIDA, the state tourism agency. They are actively working to bring more GLBT tourism to Florida throughout the year. GayDayS.com is also a member of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA), the Metropolitan Business Association and is a registered seller of travel in the state of Florida.

Gay Days Wins – Detractors Retreat

In the end, persistence, tolerance, and economics won out. The espionage efforts have proven expensive and ineffectual. The Southern Baptist boycott has been pretty much a failure, and Pat Robertson's dire warnings of hell and brimstone have failed to set the city on fire. Now, hotels are rushing to become a Gay Days Co-Host Hotel property, national businesses like Bud Light & Esurance are sponsors, national media attend and highlight the major economic benefits, and the Mayor of Orlando and the Mayor of the Board of County Commissioners have offered Gay Days visitors a hearty welcome and have even attended Gay Days events.


Greg Kabel

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