A weeklong welcome in Orlando
ORLANDO, Fla. -- If Aladdin and Mickey Mouse were gay, or if Mary Poppins had a thing for Cinderella, they'd be right at home during the annual Gay Days celebration in Orlando.
The series of informal events, now in its 15th year, begins May 31 with a kickoff party, followed by days of park-hopping and late-night reveling throughout the city during the first week of June.
The crown jewel traditionally has been Saturday at
All are welcome. Drag a friend along or just come in drag.
''One of the best things about events like Gay Disney is that they take people out of their normal social scene and politics and put you in a new environment where everyone is just there to have fun," says Trevor Nardini, 34, a Dorchester resident who flew down to Gay Days with groups of Boston friends in 2002 and 2003. ''It's like everyone can become an equal because you're not on your own turf."
During Gay Days, the parks such as the ones at Disney World and Universal Orlando operate as they do on any other day. Disney doesn't sponsor the event officially, but the company welcomes everyone -- just as it does any group of money-spending tourists.
The sole difference during Gay Days is that you probably will see more gays being more open, like one big group of fraternity brothers or sorority sisters who feel empowered in a sea of red T-shirts and rainbow necklaces. For gays wanting to avoid the puzzled looks of other parkgoers, such as caught-by-surprise parents with children, leave your red shirts at home or come back another weekend.
''For the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, we're in the majority this week," says Chris Alexander-Manley, vice president of marketing and sales for GayDays.com, a website dedicated to highlighting the week's events. Another website, GayDay.com, also promotes and markets the event and details the designated days for the parks and the after parties at Disney's Pleasure Island.
Each website emphasizes a different day for each of the parks, but depending on when you get there and what you want to do, you can't go wrong. While the main draw traditionally has been Saturday at the Magic Kingdom, for example, GayDay.com organizers are promoting that day for Universal Orlando's Islands of Adventure. Not to worry: There will be a critical mass of gay people at each park regardless of the day or the event. Overall, about 135,000 gays and lesbians are expected to visit throughout the week, pumping an estimated $100,000 into the local economy.
''It's nice to realize that for one moment, we are in the majority," Alexander-Manley says. ''It's something to be proud of."
In 1990, a group from the gay and lesbian community center in Orlando and an online chat group called Compu-Who decided to spend a Saturday at Disney to promote gay pride.
They wore red T-shirts to stand out on the rides. Word got around and the event continued the following year with an estimated 1,000 participants. As people moved around the country, they spread the word about the event, spurring its popularity.
That one day at Disney eventually expanded into a weeklong series of parties at local nightclubs with trips to other theme parks such as Animal Kingdom, MGM Studios, and Universal Studios.
The week's events have put Orlando on the gay tourist map with local clubs and hotels rolling out the rainbow welcome mat. A series of women's pool parties is scheduled at the Sheraton World Resort June 3-5. The hotel also will offer a quieter pool area for gay parents who bring their children. There's also the Round Up, a gathering spot in the Disney park area for recovering alcoholics who may need support while vacationing.
In short, there's something for everyone, says Alexander-Manley.
''It's kind of like a Mardi Gras," he says. ''No one individual or business owns Mardi Gras, but the local businesses promote it."
Johnny Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org