Tens of thousands of people flocked to “Gay Days” events in Disney in defiance of the theme park’s legal row with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ and his so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legal crackdown.
A sea of red shirts — many emblazoned with “Say Gay” or “Don’t say DeSantis” — descended on Orlando from Saturday for the half-week of pool parties, rides and drag bingo to mark the start of Pride month.
It was a clear stand against presidential nominee DeSantis, whose legislation and legal feud with Disney sparked LGBTQ+ rights organizations to issue travel warnings over the Sunshine State.
“Right now is not the time to run. It’s not the time to go away,” said Joseph Clark, CEO of Gay Days Inc., whose events are welcomed but not sponsored by Disney.
“It’s time to show we are here, we are queer and we aren’t going anywhere.”
The defiance is in keeping with the event, which started in 1991 and has become one of the largest Pride gatherings in the US.
“The birth of Gay Days was really about being visible at a time when it was dangerous to be visible,” Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida told The Washington Post. “The same is true now.”
Still, at least one event — the Taste of Gay Days — was canceled over restaurateurs’ fears, and dodgeball and flag football tournaments were also scrapped after competitors stayed away from the Pride Cup events.
Clark told The Washington Post that reservations at the hotel hosting the event were slower than normal, although all 1,001 rooms were eventually booked.
Others have called ahead to make sure they won’t be arrested for attending events, especially drag shows after a law threatening harsh punishments if children attend “adult live performances.”
“I don’t blame them for thinking that maybe we’re playing with fire,” Clark said of this year’s attendees.
“For some, it’s the safety aspect, for others, they don’t want to spend money in a state that doesn’t support them,” the event CEO said.
“My message has been, ‘We need your help here in Florida.’”
One of those regular attendees staying away, Atlanta resident Sara Haynes, said she decided not to visit Florida after lawmakers started planning legislation to restrict treatment options for trans people.
“It’s less a crusade and more like, ‘I’m not going to spend my money where bad things are going on,’” Haynes said.
Others, however, went to throw support behind Disney, which has made a stand against the legislation even as other Pride events are canceled across Florida over reported safety fears.
“Disney welcomes everybody,” Mark Stegall, who traveled from Illinois with his partner, Robert Motz, told The Washington Post.
“Maybe the governor of Florida doesn’t, but Disney does.”
To show just how welcoming “Gay Days” is, Clark has extended an open invitation for DeSantis to attend one of its drag shows.
“Come on out and see that not everything you hear out there is reality,” Clark said in a message to the governor.
“There’s a part of me that hopes that if he were to see a show, maybe his mind would change, or maybe he would see the people his actions are affecting.”
Neither Disney nor DeSantis responded to the Washington paper’s request for comment on the Gay Days event.
The gov. has repeatedly said that his legislation is merely protecting children from indoctrination.
“I’m standing for parents. I’m standing for children, and I think a multi billion dollar company that sexualizes children is not consistent with the values of Florida,” he told Fox & Friends soon after announcing his 2024 run.
Disney sued DeSantis, saying the state’s actions violated Disney’s contract rights and arguing DeSantis’s efforts represent an attempt to curb the company’s First Amendment rights.
CEO Bob Iger has ripped DeSantis’ “retaliation” as “anti-business” and “anti-Florida,” and his company scrapped plans to build a nearly $1 billion corporate campus in central Florida that would have housed 2,000 employees.
With Post wires
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