And other sum­mer LGBT des­ti­na­tions

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS

Be­fore Face­book, Twit­ter and Instagram, there was an on­line BBS, or bul­letin board sys­tem. And if you were logged on to the Florida gay BBS in early 1991, you might have seen a mes­sage from Or­lando soft­ware designer Doug Swallow propos­ing a unique idea—a “Gay and Les­bian Day at Dis­ney.”

“The idea just came,” Swallow says. “Why don’t we go to Dis­ney?”

Swallow chose the first Satur­day in June for the big day, and he didn’t want peo­ple to be shy about their pres­ence; he asked ev­ery­one to wear red and adopted the motto, “Wear Red and Be Seen.” He even tipped off an Or­lando Sen­tinel colum­nist about the event, which led to a de­bate on lo­cal TV and ra­dio talk shows, spread­ing the word even more.

The in­au­gu­ral event drew 1,000 peo­ple, mostly from the Or­lando area, but it rapidly changed in the fol­low­ing years as the chat­ter in­creased across the coun­try and around the world.

This year marks the 25th an­niver­sary of the event, with an es­ti­mated 150,000 at­ten­dees ex­pected to de­scend on Or­lando for the big week­end, mak­ing it the largest non-Pride LGBT event in the world.

Of ban­ners, bombs and bigotry

If you think hav­ing thou­sands of peo­ple from the LGBT com­mu­nity con­verge on the home of Mickey and Min­nie would cause con­tro­versy in the early 1990s, you would be right.

Walt Dis­ney World has taken a neu­tral stance on the event, not sanc­tion­ing it but not stop­ping it ei­ther. This has ap­par­ently not been enough for some. The South­ern Bap­tist Con­ven­tion boy­cotted Dis­ney for the first eight years of the event be­fore rais­ing the white flag.

“I would warn Or­lando that you’re right in the way of some se­ri­ous hur­ri­canes, and I don’t think I’d be wav­ing those flags in God’s face if I were you ... It’ll bring about ter­ror­ist bombs; it’ll bring earth­quakes, tor­na­does, and pos­si­bly a me­teor,” tel­e­van­ge­list Pat Robert­son pre­dicted at the time. There were fire­works, but alas, no me­te­ors, as it turned out.

In 2013, the Florida Fam­ily As­so­ci­a­tion paid for a plane to fly around Cen­tral Florida with a ban­ner say­ing “Warn­ing: Gay Day at Dis­ney 6/1.” And in a unique dis­play of out­reach to the His­panic com­mu­nity, they flew an­other ban­ner that read “Aviso Dia De Gays en Dis­ney 6/1.”

One Mil­lion Moms, a di­vi­sion of the anti-LGBT Amer­i­can Fam­ily As­so­ci­a­tion, and re­li­gious right ac­tivist Janet Porter of Faith 2 Ac­tion, have also spo­ken out fer­vently against the event.

The crit­i­cism from far-right evan­gel­i­cal groups worked so well that in 2013 Walt Dis­ney World hired its first openly gay pres­i­dent. Yep, the top job at the re­sort be­longs to Ge­orge Kalo­gridis, who started at the com­pany as a 17-year-old bus­boy when Walt Dis­ney World opened in 1971.

So pro­test­ers are guar­an­teed to see red again in more ways than one this year.

One Mag­i­cal Week­end takes it up a level

Walt Dis­ney World has taken baby steps to­ward ac­knowl­edg­ing the event, sell­ing rain­bow mugs and red tank tops dur­ing the week­end and now let­ting cir­cuit par­ties oc­cur on the grounds.

“So the con­tro­versy is al­ways with a se­lect few who want to be vis­i­ble but it’s get­ting less and less, and Dis­ney and ev­ery other cor­po­rate spon­sor is get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter to work with,” says Billy Looper, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of One Mag­i­cal Week­end, which has cir­cuit par­ties lined up not only at host ho­tel B Re­sort & Spa but also at Dis­ney’s Ty­phoon La­goon Wa­ter­park and at Ep­cot’s World Show­place.

The group also puts on the Gay Biz Expo, a 25,000 square-foot pre­sen­ta­tion of nu­mer­ous prod­ucts and ser­vices at the B Re­sort & Spa geared to­wards the com­mu­nity, plus a Wed­ding Expo ad­ja­cent to the main expo. Looper says the le­gal­iza­tion of same-sex mar­riage in Florida this year led to many more cor­po­rate spon­sors of the event than in years past.

One Mag­i­cal Week­end also donates a per­cent­age of ticket sales to HIV/AIDS ser­vice or­ga­ni­za­tions ev­ery year, with this year’s cut go­ing to the Hope and Help Cen­ter of Cen­tral Florida.


A lot of red—and a lot of skin—is in store for the One Mag­i­cal Week­end events at Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort. (Photo cour­tesy One Mag­i­cal Week­end)

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