I worked at Disney for the first 2 years of Gay Days that was originally celebrated at Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. I can remember the excitement and swelling numbers of Gays and Lesbians that poured into the Orlando area in those early years for the 1st weekend in June. When Gay Days first started there were protesters outside the gates of Disney and the Moral Majority coalition called for a boycott of Disney, and screamed that it was going to change the worlds image of Disney as a family destination. I thought it was going to be a disaster. However, the boycott backfired on them as gay organizations and political groups started calling themselves "Family" a term that survives today and is prevalently used throughout the LGBT community. In the first couple of years Gay Days were celebrated in only one of the four parks, remember that Animal Kingdom wasn't even thought of back then. As it was Magic Kingdom was the choice destination for gays all over the United States to come to the first weekend of June. As the popularity of the event grew and it was evident that gays and families could occupy the same space without any negative interactions Disney opened all it's parks to the celebration. By 2002, most of the hotels would be sold out from the 25th of May till June 9th, Orlando and Disney had become a hit and a repeat destination for Gays everywhere.
Like I said for the first 2 years I worked at the theme park in attractions, the crowds were full of energy, and I got to see a lot of my friends as they came through my ride. However, year three through five I had transferred from parks to reservation, and then eventually into executive management. I still got to celebrate pride but this time as a guest in the park. The first time I went in as a guest I was amazed at how many gay couples and groups were in the park all wearing red and were just being themselves. I also noticed that there were still a lot of families in the park, Disney never closed the park and made it exclusive for just gays in those day. Honestly, I don't know if they do it now or not, because I haven't been back since the 6th year of Gay Days. I had moved to Atlanta, and was going to school full time trying to get my Masters degree and didn't want to take time off for it. Amazingly enough we are here some 20 years later and it is still going strong, and I understand that it is as popular as it ever was. Disney has incorporated pride parties in their downtown Disney area and in the clubs of that district, that at one time was known as Pleasure Island. Again, I admit it has been so long since I have been to the theme park or the resort area that I don't know if Pleasure Island still exist.
But I do know that from Memorial day till the Monday after the first weekend of June continued to grow and become a popular Pride destination. Even outside of the Disney resort complex hotels as far away as International drive area are reporting a 30 to 40 percent increase in room bookings each year. Further, the numbers of people attending the Orlando Pride Parade on Sunday have continued to increase as well. I can remember marching in the parade through the streets of downtown Orlando and it lasting less than an hour. Now I understand with the number of groups and organizations participating each year the parade lasts anywhere from and hour and a half to two hours. The tourist board states that during the first weekend in June there are an additional 100,000 people in the area and that the occupancy rate of hotels in the downtown and surrounding areas is 99%.
This is amazing, I grew up in Orlando, I came out in Orlando, and I have marched and participated in many of the events surrounding Pride in Orlando, and it warms my heart to know that my friends and "Family" have chosen my hometown as a place to come and celebrate their difference and make a stand toward equality and unity. Orlando and Florida has been a tourist destination for many many years, because it is home to Universal Studios, Walt Disney World Resorts and Parks, and Sea World and a host of other attractions. But, no one can deny that the influx of gays into the area each year to celebrate Pride here hasn't increased the revenue stream and prompted the development of many more hotels and attractions. Gay Pride festival now hosts a variety of entertainment and showcases merchandise of various artisans and vendors in pride specific art, jewelry, etc.
So if you have never been to Orlando for Pride, or haven't had the chance to experience Gay Days at Disney, make sure you mark your calendar, save the date for next June, and come out and support yourself, your community, your diversity, affirm your identity and sexuality, and show your desire to eradicated intolerance and bigotry in all its forms. Stand with us and fight for the right to make your own decisions and feel the love and warmth of our community as it parties and celebrates it's humble beginings and remembers and gives thanks to all those members of the LGBT community who dedicated their lives and sacrificed for our freedom. Let's remember the Stonewall Riots, and how people had to hide themselves in the 70's and early 80's.
I hope to meet some of you because I will be there. Remember the first weekend of June.
As always my hopes and dreams are with you,