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!
EDDIE SHAPIRO, Author of “Queens in the Kingdom” and Producer of Gay Days Anaheim
My first Gay Day was in 1998. After years of having gone to the Magic Kingdom and feeling like I didn’t quite fit in with all of the families, to be there and see the wash of red was to tangibly feel that for this one day the minority had become the majority. I remember taking the Skyride over Tomorrowland and looking at all of the red from up above and feeling so full of joy.
Gay Days has lasted for the same reason that Disney World outshines its competition – it touches people at the heart in a way that other events don’t. We all grew up with Disney and the stories they told us. They are at our core, just like being gay. When we were kids we couldn’t embrace, or in some cases even understand, the gay part of ourselves. At Gay Days, we get to come back to Disney, to someplace from our childhoods, and connect with it as fully out adults. That’s pretty powerful.
I have watched the changes in the rest of the guests at Disney World over the years. There was outrage, there was mocking, there was hate. I am not so naive to believe that those feelings have all gone away, but a lot of them have. Some of that education and awareness has happened right in the park. I’ve seen families looking, really looking, at what’s going on around them. There’s no malice; just understanding something that they maybe haven’t even given much thought to before.
Gay Days Anaheim was created partially in response to Gay Days Orlando. Jeffrey Epstein and I attended the event in 1998 (and every year since) and had a great time but we realized that many people who come to Gay Days Orlando never set foot in the parks. They are there for the parties. Disney is almost incidental. At Disney World, the variety of activities put on by different organizers can’t be beat. There are so many parties and events to choose from, all over Orlando whereas at Anaheim, we stay focused on resort property.
DAVE CANNALTE, Former DJ at Mannequins on Pleasure Island
I remember especially the very first year. Working at Pleasure Island at the time, we’d heard that Gay Day was goingon that weekend, but we had no idea of what we were in for, and I mean that in a good way. All of us who worked in the clubs that weekend of the first Gay Day had the time of our lives, and for each year after that, It was something we looked forward to!
On Pleasure Island “Disco weekend” was Disney management’s termfor Gay Day. To a big extent Disney never actually acknowledged that Gay Day weekend happens, at least not in verbiage, and at least not when I worked there. Looking back it seems really funny now that they wouldn’t just call it for what it is, but hey, that’s Disney.
The people who went to Pleasure Island just showed up year after year because they liked it so much, which in itself is kind of amazing, considering year after year there were so many more options.
I think it was 1998 when we got national news coverage at Mannequins; well, our dancers did. There was some Christian Coalition people that happened to be in Mannequins that year who videotaped the dancers doing one of their dance bites. By that time the dancers had been given a teeny little bit of leeway when they would go out and do those routines. The guys would go out dressed a little more suggestively, and they danced more suggestively than normal too. The controversy was pretty ridiculous, but we loved it because they made such a huge deal about it and there really was nothing bad going on. The protestors said the dancing could be harmful to children,but there were no kids under 21 in there. After 9/11 there were a lot of cutbacks, and we had no more dancers. A few years later they hired those people back to come out on stage and basically pose or vogue or whatever, but it was never quite the same.
In 1995 and 1996 we did after-hours parties at Mannequins during Gay Days. It was before the rave law went into effect and way before the Arabian Nights after-parties began. We had done a hugely successful after party that February before Gay Days in 1995 with John Digweed, and the powers that be wanted to extend it and do it again for Gay Days Weekend. That first one was really good, the second year not so much, so they never did it again.
DAVID BAIN DISNEY VEIWPOINTS, Former Disney Cast Member
In 1995, as a salaried Disney employee, I was asked to volunteer as a Magic Kingdom greeter during Gay Day. I attended a training session in the operations conference room which is located in the office above Main Street. As I set around the table with about 20 other salaried volunteers they passed around a newspaper which Doug Swallow had created to promote the event. The message from Disney management was that the gay community was very organized, and they were very impressed. I sat there slightly red faced knowing that my garage was full of those very newspapers that I had been distributing to various locations the week prior. Disney management only wanted us to be prepared for guests who might not appreciate the LGBT group being at the park. They had arranged to have transportation available at a specific back stage exit, to take guests to Epcot, and complimentary tickets to return to the Magic Kingdom the next day.
On the day of the event, I was so proud to be issued a radio, and a pocket full of complimentary tickets, and set out on my first Gay Day representing the Walt Disney Company. I was stationed just outside the entrance to Tomorrowland and spent most of my time chatting – and flirting – with the guests in line for Alien Encounter.
And then it happened. I got my first and only irate guests who were “enraged” that their child (who was barely 2 years old and in a stroller) was being exposed to all those “perverts.” I looked down at the child who couldn’t even speak, then up to the parents to start my rehearsed spiel.
“If you would like to visit another park, I’ll be happy to arrange transportation for you.” They agreed but what I didn’t expect was that as I led the family down to the van pickup spot, it seemed like an endless string of my friends in red shirts all waved and said “Hey David” as I escorted the unhappy guests down Main Street. I proudly waved back to my friends, wished them a happy day, and continued to walk the guests down the street without hesitation.
Needless to say, I couldn’t have been more upset by the remarks of the rude guests, and no they didn’t get their complimentary tickets either. I put them in the van, wished them the very best, and went back to my spot at the Tomorrowland entrance for the remainder of my shift. It was a very difficult lesson in loyalty to your employer, and loyalty to your community. I never volunteered for that duty again but was grateful for the experience.
Before Gay Day, our community had little impact on Central Florida, and because of this single event, we have become known as a powerful and desired demographic.