In June 1991, a group of LGBTQ Central Floridians—led by openly gay Orlando resident Doug Swallow—decided to meet at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom to say to “The Most Magical Place On Earth” that “We’re here, we’re queer and we’d like to see Cinderella’s Castle!”
“[Doug said] ‘let’s go be somewhere where we can be ourselves and let people see that we’re normal people, but let them know that we are gay … we’ll do something like wear a red shirt so we can know who each other are.’ That was totally Doug’s idea, to make that day what it is,” said Michael Wanzie, a Central Florida entertainer who was at the very first event, in an interview with Watermark in 2018.
Swallow’s simple suggestion to wear red shirts so that everyone could be visible became the symbol for this event. Gay Day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom was celebrated that first Saturday of June and has been the day which the entire weekend of events has been built around. While many organizers and promoters over the years hold events that week, the term “Gay Days” became shorthand for the entire weekend.
Last year, the organization known as GayDayS announced it was moving its events from that traditional weekend to mid-August. It opened up a conversation of whether all the other groups would follow GayDayS to the new dates or if they would remain on the original weekend.
Representatives from the weekend’s other event promoters—One Magical Weekend, Girls In Wonderland and Tidal Wave Party— along with the Parliament House, banded together and announced that while GayDayS was changing dates, they would still be celebrating the first weekend of June.
“The genesis of it all started actually because of an article in Watermark,” says Billy Looper, co-founder of One Magical Weekend. “Specifically the response from the community on Watermark’s social media after they posted the story that GayDayS was moving.”
Chris Alexander-Manley, co-owner of GayDayS, Inc., announced in April 2018 that starting in 2019 the company GayDayS, Inc.—which is not affiliated with Gay Day at Disney’s Magic Kingdom—would be moving its events.
“The response was the first time I realized that Orlando truly owns this weekend,” Looper says. “It’s not owned by a company or a bar or an individual, it’s owned by the community. And this community is very proud of this event.”
The first weekend of June carries significance for the LGBTQ community for multiple reasons, says Danny Gallegos, founder of Tidal Wave Party.
“It’s not only remembering this historical moment started in 1991, but it is also the kickoff to Pride Month,” Gallegos says. “There is a lot more involved than GayDayS. That’s the name of this group of events that happened on this historical weekend but the term is just a brand name, it isn’t the product. Just like Kleenex is to facial tissues. It’s bigger than any one brand.”
The term GayDayS was trademarked in the early 2000s, and now with the organization moving, the term no longer made sense as shorthand for the entire weekend. A new name would be needed.
“We felt that the red shirt had a bigger legacy that we wanted to honor and we wanted to recognize the courage and the bravery that it took for these individuals to come together,” Looper says. “We wanted to combine that symbol with what the month as a whole meant to the LGBTQ community.”
The day was given the name RED Shirt Pride Day with the tagline “Always the first Saturday in June.”
“We are very excited this year at how the community has come together to make sure we put our own stamp on and have our own voice around the first Saturday of June, and the tradition Doug and his friends created,” says Alison Burgos, one of the original creators of the Girls In Wonderland events. “Billy reached out to me and it was this piece of clay that we all molded together. As we all talked it just made perfect sense.”
The conversation became more than just renaming the day. All parties involved saw an opportunity to create something bigger than any one part of the weekend. Out of the need to honor the legacy of this weekend was born the KindRED Pride Foundation, a nonprofit organization that will host events during RED Shirt Pride Days to raise funds for other LGBTQ nonprofits.
“This was really Billy’s idea, and it was an automatic yes for me,” Burgos says. “I think it’s really visionary how we stand as a community for each other, how we support each other, how we celebrate kindness and decency. In this atmosphere that we’re in today as a country, celebrating kindness couldn’t be any more important.”
“The mission of the KindRED Pride Foundation is to help likeminded organizations increase awareness and increase funds by creating special events, sporting events, musical events and special programming,” Looper says. “We’ve done that with three pretty simple but big initiatives.”
The first of these initiatives is Red Shirt Pride Day Around The World. The worldwide event looks to use social media to document 1 million people wearing red on June 1, the first Saturday of the month.
“No matter where you are in the world, we want to see you show your red shirt pride to help spread the message of inclusion, equality and kindness,” Looper says. “So on that date, the first Saturday of June, we want everyone to wear red. Get your friends together and make sure they wear red too and take pictures. Then upload those photos to your social media accounts with #RSPD.”
To take the support of nonprofits a step further, you can go to KindREDPride.org and purchase a red T-shirt with the logo of one of the participating nonprofits. The list consists of nearly 30 local, regional and national nonprofits; including the One Orlando Alliance, The Trevor Project, Come Out With Pride, Julian’s Foundation, The 49 Fund, the Orlando Youth Alliance, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, You Can Play and more.
A donation of $9 per shirt will go to the nonprofit you select when ordering your official KindRED Pride Fountain red shirt.
The next initiative is the benefit concert “We Are One: An Extravaganza for Diversity & Inclusion” at Disney Spring’s House of Blues on May 30.
“For the first time all the organizations who hold events on this weekend are coming together to be a part of this event,” Looper says, “and we are covering all types of music and entertainment from country western to Latin music to drag performances, dance and comedy. It’s going to be an amazing variety show that really takes the weekend to the next level.”
“We Are One” will be hosted by WFTV news anchor Jorge Estevez and out comedian Erin Foley, and will feature performances from “RuPaul’s Drag Race” sensation Shangela (sponsored by Two Spirit Health Services), country singer Ty Herndon, Brandon Stansell, Latin super group MDO (formerly known as Menudo), recording artist Beth Sacks and “America’s Got Talent” performer Brody Ray. The evening will also feature some of Orlando’s best local talent including Blue Star’s dance troupe VarieTEASE, acrobatic performers AntiGravity and drag entertainers Natalie Nayles and Cara.
“Orlando is full of so much talent, so along with national and international performers, it’s great that we will be able to showcase local talent on stage and behind the scenes as we put this show together,” Looper says.
The third part of the KindRED Pride Foundation’s initiative is something that won’t be fully realized until 2020. The Pride Cup will be a multi-sport LGBTQ athletic competition at the ESPN Worldwide of Sports Complex.
“We have been developing a women’s sports program that we’re hoping to launch in 2019,” says Burgos. “Billy came to me last year and said let’s do something really next level and bring it to a place like ESPN Wide World of Sports. This takes our little idea and it takes it super next level. I think it’s amazing and I cannot wait to launch it in 2020.”
Now just because the Pride Cup doesn’t kickoff until next year, that doesn’t mean the KindRED Pride Foundation won’t be getting active this year. For its initial launch, The Pride Cup is going to be a virtual sport-a-thon.
Go to the KindRED Pride Foundation website and register—either as an individual or a team—and from now until Red Shirt Pride Day, KindRED Pride wants LGBTQ athletes, sports leagues and anyone supporting kindness to wear red and get active wherever you are in the world.
“That’s the cool part about technology today,” Looper says, “you could do a virtual walk or virtually play volleyball, play basketball, play your favorite sport, whatever that may be. Just participate in some fun activity. If your fun activity is going to the mall and shopping, do that. All we request is that you wear red and use our hashtag on social media.”
Once you’re registered, share your unique link to get people to support you and/or your team by donating to the nonprofit of your choice. Make sure to share stories, videos and images of your activities on social media with the hashtags #RSPD, #ThePrideCup, #KindREDPride and #BeKindChampion.
“We each have our share of what goes on in our community this weekend,” says Gallegos. “But once we come together it’s just about being together and just being us. We have a place in the world, everybody. Every one person in our community has a place in this world. We want to make Orlando a place where everybody can feel safe and be welcome.”
For more information on the KindRED Pride Foundation or to purchase a RED Shirt Pride Day T-shirt, visit KindREDPride.org.