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Gay Days at
Disneyland: Part Celebration, Part Fiasco

Gay Days at
Disneyland: Part Celebration, Part Fiasco


For 11 years, gays and lesbians wearing red shirts have descended on Disneyland for Gay Days, an event that forces mainstream Americans to deal with us face to face. And while just-married same-sex couples urging park visitors to vote no on Prop. 8 put a positive political face on the weekend's festivities, the event too often showed the gay community at its worst: drunk, sometimes naked, and acting completely inappropriate for the families looking on.

"Don't talk to him, don't even look at him," a stocky, bearded gentleman tugging at the arm of a curious 3-year-old said softly to our group of five while waiting in line to ride Alice in Wonderland. "You guys are an abomination."

The two groups flung arguments back and forth: "Judge not lest ye be judged," followed by talk of "securing a place in the kingdom of heaven." Suddenly a woman, visiting the park with her daughter, interjected, asking the gentleman to move along, making clear she was appalled by his hateful rhetoric.

And thus paints the picture of another Gay Days at Disneyland, the 11th annual gathering of gays, lesbians, and their supporters from all over the United States, descending on Anaheim for the two-day event. Dressed in gay-identified bright red T-shirts and mixing among the already diverse Disneyland crowd, cultures collided and ideas converged in what is arguably one of the best opportunities all year to show mainstream Americans what this equal-rights hubbub is all about.

The event, while not officially sanctioned by Disney -- Gay Days started after a Disney-hosted gay night was canceled in 1998 -- nevertheless attracted some 25,000 participants in 2007. It's even the subject of a book -- Gay Days aficionados Jeffrey Epstein and Eddie Shapiro immersed themselves in Disney culture to pen Queens in the Kingdom in 2007.

Though Gay Days certainly paints an image of a united gay community -- particularly given the upcoming election, Obama-Biden and "No on Prop. 8" stickers were nearly as prevalent as the red T-shirts they adorned -- the event has always met with a fair amount of criticism.

This year Disney meal ticket Hannah Montana -- a.k.a. Miley Cyrus -- kicked the gays and other guests to the curb for her 16th birthday party on Sunday, forcing the park to shut down a full five hours early. But that was a minor inconvenience compared to the slew of park patrons who just happened to book their trips on the same weekend as Gay Days -- some of them none too happy about the coincidence.

There are the straight men and women, unaffiliated with Gay Days, who appeared to be rethinking the red Mickey T-shirts they slipped into that morning, now finding themselves dressed in the same color as half the park's patrons, most of whom were walking arm in arm with someone of the same sex. Then there was the Mark Twain riverboat singles cruise that a few dozen straight folks seemed to unassumingly stumble onto, plus the Downtown Disney bars spilling over with the West Hollywood contingent. Yes, Disneyland definitely has a different vibe during Gay Days.

And there are moments when that vibe has the potential to do great things. A happy gay couple who had just tied the knot celebrated at a restaurant at California Adventure, a carnival-themed park affiliated with Disneyland. The half dozen straight couples who looked on wished them well, a few stopping by to ask questions about California's Proposition 8, which, if passed, would make same-sex marriage illegal in the state. They took photos, ate cake, people dining at nearby tables toasted them, and a woman even congratulated the flower girl, the 6-year-old the couple had adopted together.

Those who took issue with the onslaught of gay park visitors seemed relatively few and quiet about it -- for the time being.

A few hours later at the same restaurant, the bulk of the clientele had moved to the rooftop bar, now one big red shirt as far as the eye could see. A few scattered families remained, caught in the awkward transition from lunch to happy hour. For the most part, everyone got on famously. But one particularly riled up group of men, parked on the same string of barstools for the bulk of the afternoon, had reached new levels of intoxication. Hugging had turned into making out, the subtle pat on the butt was now a full-on hand down the pants, and, for a sly photo op, friends cheered as one flopped his penis out of his pants.

The group was quickly chastised. Other red shirts there to celebrate, appalled by this group's behavior, chased them out of the bar before kids and their parents figured out what was going on.

But the damage had been done. And it's just one example of wildly inappropriate behavior that took place across both parks during Gay Days weekend.

And herein lies the question:

Is Gay Days a chance for gays and lesbians to show mainstream Americans just how important it is that they support equal rights, or is it just another chance to indulge in stereotypical behavior?

Is the woman who, an hour after the restaurant incident, demanded a refund from guest services because "some things are just not OK for my kids to see," responding negatively to the gay lifestyle or to adults exposing themselves in public?

For the families who frequent Disneyland, seeing a well-adjusted gay couple with two kids wearing "No on 8" stickers strike up a friendly conversation with an elderly couple sporting McCain-Palin buttons is a sign of what good can come from cultures colliding. But seeing a 50-something guy holding a leash connected to a barely legal twink, their tank tops announcing them as "daddy" and "boy," leads to a different conversation entirely.

Lisa and Beth, who married in Vancouver, Canada, last year, have been to the last three Gay Days at Disneyland. They live in southern Utah and say they're far more comfortable holding hands and acting like a "real couple" here than they are at home. "Strength in numbers," they said.

At the same time they feel like "ambassadors" for the gay community -- "especially now, this is our chance to show everyone else we're really no different," Beth says.

People like the man who views gays as an abomination and the woman who wanted her tickets refunded -- not to mention the random sprinkling of guys who "take things way too far" -- had the opposite effect on Billy, a first-timer. He said he's "not as comfortable" at Gay Days as he thought he'd be, and the families who have a problem with the gay community are "only part of the problem."

Last year, when Bill O'Reilly went on a tirade about Gay Days, calling the grouping of gay people with families "insane" and "inappropriate" before showing footage of some of that inappropriate behavior on rides, gays and lesbians were up in arms. It's just a select few, we countered. The bulk of the crowd was just there to have a good time and it's not fair to judge entire groups by the bad behavior of a few.

And it's true -- bad eggs are bad eggs, whether they're gay or straight.

But this year was different. There's too much at stake. In an election year when, particularly, Prop. 8 is likely to be close and we'll need every "no" vote we can get, we had the opportunity to show straight families we're no different than they are -- to possibly make them think twice about their stance on certain issues as we approach Election Day.

The opportunity was there, and I'm sure some folks left Disneyland with a newfound respect for our lives and our families.

But as another woman who approached guest services to demand her refund put it, "I had no idea some people could be so filthy. I'm appalled."

And I'm afraid that's the overarching image a few too many families took home after visiting the Magic Kingdom during Gay Days weekend.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Ross von Metzke