GAY DAY: YOUR DAY – THE PARTY PROMOTERS

By : KIRK HARTLAGE
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More than any other large-scale Pride-type event, Gay Days Weekend attracts every shade of the LGBT rainbow. It also brings an equally vast range of scenic views, not just from taking part in the numerous events associated with the weekend, but also from behind-the-scenes if you’re making it all happen. We asked a variety of folks, with a variety of backgrounds with the Weekend, to share their favorite mental snapshots. We also asked: What does Gay Days Weekend mean to you, why has it lasted so long, and what impact do you think it’s had in all that time?

While you’re here we’d like to hear from you – tell us how Gay Day is Your Day!

THE PARTY PROMOTERS

CHRIS ALEXANDER-MANLEY, President Gay Days Inc.

I see Gay Days as a big family reunion. We see so many of the same smiling faces and friends each year. The letters we receive afterwards sharing how much fun they had always makes the effort worthwhile.

With the visibility and spending that happens for the LGBT community across at the parks, restaurants, rental cars, bars and shopping malls throughout the week across Central Florida, the full community has seen the truth about this event. It is one of the top financial events for the area, one of the best behaved, and one of the most loyal communities that any tourist destination could ask for.

ALISON BURGOS, Promoter Girls in Wonderland

My first big memory was attending Gay Day 15 years ago as a spectator. It was the first time I was at a large gay festival/pride event and I remember feeling overwhelmingly emotional to be around that many people like me. I was excited and proud to walk through the park with my friends. It was a really important GLBT moment in my life, and in connecting with my community.

My other big memory was being on stage at House of Blues (at Girls in Wonderland) three years ago, when I was able to get down on my knee and ask my wife to marry me. We were hoping then that one day we’d have equality in our state, and that day occurred this year, in January! That day we went to the courthouse in Miami and got married, knowing that the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which has been our beneficiary for the last 15 years, had a hand in securing those rights for me and my wife. It was a powerful moment for our family.

Weekends like Gay Days allow us to show that we are just like everyone else. It also allows gay people to connect and feel like they belong. There are so many places even today where gay people still live mainly closeted. The battle is not over. There’s a camaraderie that happens in an event like this one, and other pride events.

What makes this weekend stand out is the sheer vast attendance, for one thing. Plus we’re at and around theme parks – there’s no place more magical than Disney – so that makes it really special.

When we first started Girls in Wonderland 15 years ago the Convention and Visitors Bureau wasn’t even interested in having a conversation with us. Now they’re much more supportive and recognize our community, and our dollars.

Plus, there’s something I love about Orlando. I think Gay Days is a very Southern event. A majority of the people there are from the Southeastern part of the United States, and Southern people are people of hospitality and charm; they smile and say hello. You don’t find that everywhere in the country.

We produce events all over the country; our girls at Girls in Wonderland are the sweetest, the most grateful, and the most appreciative.

In 2005 there was talk of moving things to Universal: I was involved in those meetings. That was a time when people were stepping up to welcome a LGBT audience. I think changing a tradition that has been so strongly built can be challenging.

I don’t have anything bad to say about Disney, I understand Disney doesn’t “officially” recognize us, but Disney has always been very welcoming, making sure we were safe and not harassed or discriminated against by other groups. To me, that’s Disney doing what they can to open their arms to us.

So I understand when Universal said they would like to court our audience there. I thought it was cool that Universal stepped up and did that, but the crowds spoke clearly and really didn’t show up to Islands of Adventure. It wasn’t as well attended as the Magic Kingdom.

It’s all part of the evolution of the weekend; now people go everywhere. And there are so many more gay families. We’ve come a long way.

DAVID BIEHL, Promoter, Tidal Wave Weekend

I couldn’t think of anything that sounded more interesting or more exciting than a water park full of our people: wet and almost naked. At the time there was – and still is – a water park party that’s very successful, my friends and a lot of other people I knew weren’t very comfortable being wet and almost naked with the people at that party. So it seemed like a natural venture to try.

Our first year, we had to overcome Tropical Storm Barry. That made a very interesting impact on our start! Guys still came out to the park and managed to have a good time despite that it was unusually cold and unusually wet. We had 350 people join us that first year. The next year we had much better weather, and 650 people.

The response has been very supportive ever since. We got the point where we were getting 1,000 people at Wet ‘n’ Wild, but a lot of them were feeling very disjointed. They would go to our party, and Gay Day, but didn’t feel part of the overall vibe, because we’re the alternative. When the Gay Days folks moved over to the Doubletree, it left what was the Royal Plaza open. That first year we sold about 300 rooms; this year we sold out our hotel, the Holiday Inn, in February, and we have an overflow hotel too. People want to book the day after the event is over.

I would guess 60 percent of the Tidal Wave Guys go to the Magic Kingdom on Gay Day, especially to the Country Bear Jamboree in the early afternoon. When I’ve gone to the park I’m always impressed by the attitude of the non-participants, the families. I always found them to be warm and inviting. I never felt uncomfortable in the park, I never felt like there were eyes staring at me. I never really saw protestors; I did see a plane one time, but I always thought that was better advertising for us: Come to the park, we’re here!

Gay Day Weekend has lasted so long because there’s something for everyone. Before we had our host hotel we had a block of rooms at the Doubletree, and there was everything there! Even specific groups: Black militant lesbians! Everything! I think having so many options, and so many groups represented, with the availability of all that convention space, as an attendee you just can’t lose.

Some people say we’re now one of the “major players” of the weekend, and I’m really flattered and totally blown away. I never imagined anything like this, we just wanted to have a party…and then a place to stay. It’s grown into this monster…this year I can’t find rooms to put these people in! And it’s been that way for the last two years.

If there’s any lesson we’ve learned over the years it’s simplicity: “Keep It Simple Stupid” is my motto these days. For us it’s all about having a swimming pool, with a bar, and good music. And really, that’s all they want, other than the Disney parks. The more complicated we got, the more things we tried to offer, it takes away from having a big swimming pool filled with all flavors of people: color, size, age, race. It’s a big melting pot.

TOM CHRIST, Promoter, One Magical Weekend

I can remember watching the news in California living a closeted lifestyle and thinking how amazing it was that the individuals who started 25 years ago were so bold. Through the highly publicized conflict, I believe this weekend was a catalyst for the “out” traveler to go where they want to go and see what they want to see around the world. It made inroads with all communities that we are like the other 56 million people a year who trek to Orlando… we just do it with a little more flair and style!

When the opportunity arose in 2009 for us to come in and take over, Billy almost felt like it was our responsibility or a challenge to keep those parties alive. Disney made a business decision to seek out another promoter. They knew Billy and approached us and asked us if we’d be interested in taking over the Friday night Typhoon Lagoon party.

That first year, I was hooked! Everything aligned our way…eventually. That was the year the power went out at the Royal Plaza, that Thursday, so we couldn’t sell any tickets that day. Friday it poured down rain, for four hours. We were nervous. We took this thing over and we had five weeks to set up a business, open up a merchant account, create a Web site, create the ability to sell tickets online. It was nerve-racking.

But around 5 p.m. the sun was out, we had blue skies; it was like somehow the planets aligned. It was truly magical!

This is the most aggressive year that we’ve been involved. Everyone says we’re the new kids on the block, but we’ve been around for seven years! This year – with the addition of a host hotel, pool parties, and late-night parties – it’s almost like when we took it over in 2009. It’s a huge challenge and we’re so excited. It’s a fantastic opportunity to offer something new and different and create a unique experience for all these people who are coming to Orlando from all over the world.Last year we had 23 countries and 43 states represented at One Magical Weekend. This is the perfect year for us to have gone out and done everything we’ve done, because it is the 25th year. We’re thankful to the pioneers who had the idea back in 1991.

What have we learned along the way? You can’t start early enough planning for next year. We’ve already worked on the logos for 2016, getting them ready to launch on Sunday before we leave.

DISNEY VIEWPOINTS

WATERMARK VIEWS

THE PERFORMERS

LOCAL VIEWPOINTS

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