Friday, April 1, 2011
Social Conservatives Take Aim at Gay Days at Orlando and Disney
By: Kevin Derby
With thousands of people from around the world planning to visit Central Florida for the Gay Days festivities in early June, religious conservatives from the Sunshine State are warning families not to visit the Magic Kingdom on the first Saturday of the month.
“Approximately 30,000 children will rush with their parents to the Magic Kingdom in Orlando on Saturday, June 4, only to be thrust into a crowd of approximately 15,000 people reveling about gay pride,” noted David Caton, the executive director of the conservative Florida Family Association, on Thursday.
Caton, who has led numerous protests targeting companies that advertise on television shows with questionable and mature content, urged that Disney, which is not sponsoring the event, restrict Gay Days activities to after-hours.
“Why would Disney allow Gay Day to take place during regular operating hours at the expense of offending tens of thousands of unsuspecting guests when they require other special events to be held after normal operating hours?” demanded Caton. “Disney requires special events like Grad Night and Night of Joy to be held after the Magic Kingdom's regular operating hours. Disney does this to avoid having a large group of like minded people in the park at the same time with regular patrons who expect a normal day at the Magic Kingdom.”
Besides recommending that members inform friends and family who are planning to hit the Magic Kingdom in early June, Caton urged his members and supporters to e-mail CEO Robert Igner and other leaders at Disney asking them to move the event back to after-hours.
Caton noted that his organization had raised enough funds to rent an airplane which would fly over the Orlando area on that Friday and Saturday with banners warning about the event.
“We have had a team attend several past Gay Days at Disney,” added Caton. “We estimate that as many as 10,000 people enter the park only to promptly exit before 1:00 p.m. after witnessing the same-sex revelry.”
Chris Alexander-Manley, the president of Orlando based Gay Days, Inc., welcomed the free publicity that Caton offered the event.
Pointing to the 21-year history of the event, which is not the largest gay and lesbian tourist event in the world, Alexander-Manley, whose company helps organize the festivities, countered that the event proved a boon to businesses in the region.
“We’ve proven the event’s impact to the businesses in Central Florida,” Alexander-Manley told Sunshine State News. Besides citing reports from businesses who found event patrons to be well-behaved, Alexander-Manley estimated the events his company promotes, which brought in around 150,000 people to the region in 2010, added $600 million to the economy.
Alexander-Manley took exception to Caton’s assertion that families left the Magic Kingdom over the event.
“As always, our attendees are expected to behave just like any other guest,” noted Alexander-Manley. “We get great feedback each year from families who didn't know that it was Gay Days and that they were happy their children were able to see the diversity of humanity.”
Alexander-Manley opined that the Florida Family Association could have spent their money on better causes than renting an airplane for their banners.
“That $3,700 could have been better spent supporting the disasters in Japan or the storm victims of Central Florida from the tornadoes from yesterday,” added Alexander-Manley.
Alexander-Manley was not alone in his criticism of the Florida Family Association.
"It’s offensive to see an organization call on Disney to discriminate against any segment of the population,” said Brian Winfield, the communications director of LGBT civil rights group Equality Florida. “Fortunately, Disney is among the 89 percent of Fortune 500 companies that have policies prohibiting anti-gay discrimination. At a time when Florida is desperate for jobs and needs the economic benefits of tourism, we hope that the tens of thousands of gay families who travel to Orlando will be able to enjoy their vacations free of the bigotry demonstrated by this organization.”
Started in 1991, the Gay Days events received national attention when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Disney in 1997. The convention lifted the ban in 2005. Prominent televangelist and former Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson made national headlines back in 1998 when he suggested that God would punish Orlando for hosting Gay Days by unleashing natural and man-made disasters upon the region.