The Importance of Being Inverted: Gay Days at Amusement Parks, Part 1

by Tony Phillips
Wednesday May 22, 2013

This article is from the May 2013 issue of the EDGE Digital Magazine.
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Princess for a day...

The tableau downshifts from a rosy cheek-to-cheek portrait to trial by combat as crowned heads rotate until eyes are locked in a Mexican standoff. The crowd quiets and the camera shutter recording it all becomes audible. Atop the head of one princess balances a standard issue Walt Disney Company crown, atop the other sits its inferior gift shop answer: a ribbon-wrapped tiara headband retailing for $10.50.

"Work, ’Rella!" screams a reveler in an outsized red T-shirt leaning against the castle wall and the whole mess threatens to break out into a battle royal. Finally, Fake Crown breaks the gaze and drops into a squat, hopping forward on bent knees, arms flying around the head as hands pop various Madonna-like vogue positions about the face.

Cinderella has just been shablammed...and in her own courtyard no less. Welcome to Gay Days at Walt Disney World, that special time of year on the first Saturday of June when "The Most Magical Place On Earth" moves that much closer to Siegfried & Roy.

Red T-Shirts As Far as the Eye Can See

According to Time Magazine, the first Gay Day in 1991 drew 3,000 red-shirted locals to Orlando-area theme parks. By 1995, that number swelled to 10,000, while 2010 saw 150,000 LGBT visitors along with friends, family and allies descend for the six-day gathering.

In 1997, the Southern Baptist Convention, whose 16 million members make it the Avis of U.S. Christian groups, even signed on to become the in-house boycott before throwing up their folded hands and dropping the matter in 2005.

But is the personal political? And was there an inciting incident a la Stonewall that kicked off the first Gay Days? "The original idea for Gay Days at Disney World was not politically oriented," Eddie Shapiro explains. "They were not thinking it would get big like it has. They just reached out to a bunch of their friends and thought it would be fun if a few hundred people showed up in red shirts."

Shapiro not only runs the three-day West Coast equivalent called Gay Days Anaheim (October 4-6) but has literally written the book on Disney and gays called Queens in the Kingdom. He explains that Orlando’s original Gay Days organizer, improbably named Doug Swallow, chose the red shirt. "Red stands out and you’re able to spot people from afar."

Land Versus World

There are some differences between the Gay Days Shapiro operates out of Anaheim and the six-day affair that takes place at Disney World. First off, the Disney World promoters are very hands-off once participants are inside the parks while Shapiro loads up his day with in-park meet-ups like a lesbian ice cream social or bear’s ride on Splash Mountain.

With attendance below 50,000, it could be that Shapiro has an imperative whereas the big show doesn’t need to corral park guests to achieve critical mass.

"You feel it even before you get into the park," says Sal Cantor, a New Yorker who travels to Orlando for Gay Days every year. "Just waiting for the monorail to get to the front gate, all you see are red shirts. The last time I felt that feeling of city doubling as gay Utopia was waiting for the Metro during the March on Washington in 1993."

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