Way before the teeming Red-Shirt-wearing masses began descending upon the Disney Parks for Gay Days, queer people have long had a love affair with Disney. From the freedom to just be yourself at the place Where Dreams Come True to Disney characters like Ursula and Gaston who have become gay icons, magic happens when Disney and the LGBT+ community unite.
So, with Pride Month just around the corner, what better way to celebrate than with a healthy helping of rainbows and pixie dust? Here’s everything you can look forward to for Gay Days at Disney.
Is Disney World LGBT+ Friendly?
Emphatically yes! On Disneyland’s opening day way back in 1955, Walt Disney commemorated the event with the following words: “To all who come to this happy place: Welcome.” All being the operative word. The Disney magic that so many have come to love is meant for everyone, regardless of what you look like or who you love.
Disney theme parks are intended and engineered to be an escape from reality. From the moment you step through the gate, you leave the outside world behind. And for a community that’s used to dealing with discrimination on the daily, that is incredibly powerful. At Disney World, Disneyland, and other Disney parks, those concerns largely fade away.
“SafeD Begins With Me”
For Disney Parks cast members, The Four Keys (now Five, more on that next) are a blueprint for how you should go about your workday, whether making magic for guests or interacting with fellow cast members. The most important of those keys – before Courtesy, Show, and Efficiency – is Safety. Keeping guests safe and secure is a cast member’s number one priority.
Some safety measures at Disney are obvious, like the bag checks and metal detectors you go through before entering the parks. Others, like a mind-boggling number of hidden cameras and plainclothes security staff, are intentionally less so. As a result, crime at Disney is virtually non-existent – we’re talking a crime rate that’s hundreds of times below the national average. Of course, while it is possible that queer guests may experience negative interactions with fellow guests, they tend to get quashed pretty quickly by security or other cast members.
Inclusion at the Heart
In September 2020, Disney announced that after more than 60 years, The Four Keys would become The Five Keys with the addition of Inclusion. With cast members, guests, and fans from around the world, making sure that everyone feels welcome, celebrated, and seen at Disney theme parks is of the utmost importance.
Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, had this to say in the official press release that dropped in April 2021:
“We want our guests to see their own backgrounds and traditions reflected in the stories, experiences and products they encounter in their interactions with Disney. And we want our cast members – and future cast members – to feel a sense of belonging at work.
That means cultivating an environment where all people feel welcomed and appreciated for their unique life experiences, perspectives and culture. Where we celebrate allyship and support for each other. And where diverse views and ideas are sought after as critical contributions towards our collective success.”
Ah, music to my ears! Those that have been paying attention will already notice the changes, such as the reimagining (or retheming altogether) classic rides like Jungle Cruise and Splash Mountain and gender-inclusive costumes for cast members. On the backend of the business, they’re even working to use more diverse suppliers to help make the magic happen. In short, there couldn’t be a better time to visit.
Who Helps Runs the (Disney) World? Queer Girls and Guys
The Disney Parks have become a haven for the LGBTQ+ community not only for these reasons, but because it’s queer folk like them who help bring Disney magic to life. In fact, one could say that parks like Disney World and Disneyland stand as a testament to gay culture. From the cast members that make magic for guests every day to the Imagineers that work behind the scenes to dream up beloved experiences, you’d be hard-pressed to turn the corner in a Disney theme park without coming face-to-face with something or someone that hasn’t been touched by or isn’t a part of the gay community.
Case in point? Bob Gurr, Imagineer and Disney Legend. A gifted industrial designer, Bob, then a closeted gay man, was invited to join Walt Disney Imagineering – called WED Enterprises at the time – by Walt himself. For almost four decades, he created over 100 designs that still power Disney theme parks today including Walt Disney World’s Monorail, the bobsleds for Disneyland’s Matterhorn, and the Doom Buggies of the Haunted Mansion.
He even worked on Disney’s very first audio-animatronic, Abraham Lincoln for Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. So, the next time you hop on the Monorail on your way to Magic Kingdom, thank Bob Gurr: He invented it.
Does Disney Celebrate Pride Month?
Officially? Not really, at least not with any special events at Disney theme parks stateside. Although, Disneyland Paris did host the first-ever Disney-sponsored gay pride event, the Magical Pride Party, in 2019. Unofficially? Definitely, and you don’t even need to visit the parks! The easiest way to show your LGBTQ+ pride is with something from the Disney Pride collection.
Disney Pride Merchandise
Just in time for Pride Month 2021, Disney fans of all kinds can now get a kaleidoscope of rainbow-bedecked products. And best of all, the collection is larger and more inclusive than ever! Previously just Disney (i.e., Mickey Mouse) merch, now guests can celebrate with colorful products featuring Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars characters too. Everyone’s favorite (drag) queen, Ursula, even makes an appearance.
A range of apparel is available, as are plushies, Funko Pop! figures, and accessories like hats, Mickey ears, bags, phone cases, and more. There’s even Mickey Mouse fan that’s perfect for throwing shade (of both the cooling and side-eye variety) or catching a breeze. Plus, Disney pin trading enthusiasts and dabblers alike can get in on the fun with new Pride flag pins including trans, lesbian, bisexual, and intersectional.
On top of everything, a portion of the proceeds from the Rainbow Disney Collection will be donated to organizations around the world which dedicate their time to supporting LGBTQ+ communities in their area. Click here to learn more.
Celebrating Pride Month With Gay Days at Disney World
Disney World may not have any official, Disney-sanctioned events, but that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t any happening. Each year (except for 2020 and 2021 due to COVID-19), lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and other queer people – along with their family, friends, and LGBTQ+ allies – make the annual pilgrimage to Central Florida to celebrate Pride Month with Gay Days at Disney World and other Orlando-area theme parks.
What started as a single-day event in June 1991 with around 3,000 members of the local LGBT community at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Gay Days has since expanded to a massive near-weeklong, citywide extravaganza with over 180,000 attendees from around the world. Originally organized by the Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Community Center of Orlando (GLBCC), today the celebration is a team effort with parties, special events, and the GayDays Expo thrown by a number of different queer organizations at GayDays Host Hotels and other locations throughout Orlando.
Traditionally, the festivities culminate on the 1st Saturday in June, just like they began back in 1991, at the Magic Kingdom. There, thousands take to the streets in their iconic red shirts for Red Shirt Pride Days. While the unofficial uniform of Gay Days was originally just a practical suggestion, making it easier to find each other among the crowds, the sea of red is now a way of saying to the world, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.”
One Magical Weekend
One Magical Weekend is one of the world’s largest LGBTQ+ pride and music festivals, currently spanning 5 days at the Walt Disney World Resort and hotels in the Disney Springs area. While the event has unfortunately been canceled for 2021, it is set to return in 2022, with the dates set for June 2-6.
Aside from visiting the theme parks, attendees have access to daily pool parties and nightly events with entertainment provided by a slate of international DJs. There’s even the Gay Biz Expo with exhibitors touting everything from fashion, travel, and weddings to financial planning services, healthcare, and home renovations.
Girls in Wonderland
Girls just want to have fun, and for over 20 years, Girls in Wonderland has been helping queer women do just that during Gay Days in Orlando. The event usually coincides with Disney Pride Week in June. In 2021, however, the dates were moved to October 14-18 as part of LGBT+ History Month as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each year, the ladies take over a hotel in the Kissimmee area (the Grand Orlando Resort in Celebration for 2021) for dance and pool parties, a comedy show, live music from women artists, a drag brunch, celebrities, Les Vixens burlesque performers, and more.
Tidal Wave Party
The manliest of gay men – the bears – get their day in the Florida sunshine too at the Tidal Wave Party. The event is held in conjunction with Disney Gay Days at a resort in the Disney Springs area. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the event has been postponed until 2022.
The party grows each year, with more vacationers and events added to the mix. Its headlining event, held in collaboration with One Magical Weekend and Girls in Wonderland, is the RIPTIDE pool party at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. Other popular offerings include Bearaoke, the Tidal Wave Ball, a cabaret show, Dirty Bingo, and a vendor space with a barber, apparel, and more.
Celebrating LGBT+ History Month With Disneyland Gay Days
Gay Days at Disney World was so popular that the festivities eventually spread to the west coast as well. Gay Days Anaheim recreates the red shirt magic in October each year as part of LGBT+ History Month. Like its sister event, Gay Days at Disneyland has expanded from a one-day event to a three-day weekend. Luckily, the event has been confirmed for 2021 with details still to be announced.
In addition to visiting the parks, this rainbow-and-red-festooned weekend is packed with fun activities. Here, guests of all stripes and persuasions can enjoy nightly dance parties headlined by stars of RuPaul’s Drag Race and spun by DJs, comedy shows, pool parties, movie nights, book signings, Hollywood sneak peeks, and more.
Remember Bob Gurr, the Disney Legend who worked alongside Walt Disney to create some of Disney’s most beloved transportation offerings? He’s there too, greeting his adoring fans and hopefully swapping a few tales along the way. Plus, you won’t want to miss the group photo opportunities so you can commemorate the gay times that were had.
Well ladies and gents, that wraps up roundup, with a side of pixie dust, of all the ways you can let your rainbow flag fly at Disneyland and Disney World for Pride and LGBT+ History Months. Hopefully, you’ve got some ideas for how to show your pride, share your love for Disney, and maybe make some new friends along the way this year and in the years to come.
Have you been to Gay Days at Disney World or Disneyland? Let us know in the comments, along with any tips and tricks you might have for first timers.
Hoping to make the most of your Disney World vacation while you’re there in between all the pool and dance parties? Our one-day plans for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios will give you all the tips and tricks you need to accomplish everything on your list. Wanting to maximize your budget instead? Save some cash with our discounted Walt Disney World tickets.
Amber is a proud former Walt Disney World Cast Member, an unabashed travel addict, and a hospitality and tourism specialist with over 10 years in the industry. She likes getting her wanderlust fix by sharing her favorite park tips and tricks with other Disney fans. When she isn’t working, you can usually catch her in a hot power yoga class or spending way too much money at Disney Springs.