Organizers of an annual LGBTQ+ event at Walt Disney World expect thousands to LGBTQ+ people to flock to the Orlando theme park this weekend, despite Florida’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws and travel advisories issued by advocacy organizations.
Gay Days at Disney World reportedly draws more than 100,000 attendees each year, and the event’s CEO Joseph Clark tells the Associated Press that this year he hopes that will send a message.
It’s just DeSantis’s latest attack on Disney since he was humiliated by the corporation.
“Right now, is not the time to run. It’s not the time to go away,” Clark said. “It’s time to show we are here, we are queer, and we aren’t going anywhere.”
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Last week, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) – the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ rights organization – joined Florida Equality in issuing a travel advisory highlighting “the devastating impacts of laws that are hostile to the LGBTQ community, restrict access to reproductive health care, repeal gun safety policies, foment racial prejudice, and attack public education by banning books and censoring curriculum in order that prospective travelers or residents can make the best decisions for themselves and their families.”
In a statement, the HRC said that the warning was not “a blanket recommendation against travel nor a call for boycott” of the state.
Under Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), Florida’s Republican lawmakers have passed an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws in recent years. In 2022, DeSantis signed the state’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, banning elementary school teachers from mentioning LGBTQ+ issues and people in classrooms. Last month, he signed a slate of five anti-LGBTQ+ laws, including an expansion of “Don’t Say Gay” to cover all grade levels, a bill aimed a criminalizing trans people who use bathrooms that don’t correspond with the gender they were assigned at birth, and another that bans gender-affirming care for minors.
Yet another new law allows the state to revoke the business licenses of venues that allow minors to see drag shows. As a result of the law, signed by DeSantis in May, several Florida towns have had to cancel or scale back their local Pride celebrations.
But Gay Days is proceeding as planned, with organizers noting that Orlando is particularly LGBTQ+-friendly. As the AP notes, the city has a perfect score on the HRC’s Municipal Equality Index, a rating of cities based on their non-discrimination ordinances, LGBTQ+ equality protections, and other metrics.
Orlando’s mayor is one of several Florida mayors who in May signed GLSEN’s Rise Up pledge promising to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ citizens. Gay Days organizers say that visitors to Florida can support the LGBTQ+ community in friendly cities like Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and St. Petersburg.
As the AP reports, Disney has in recent decades embraced Gay Days, which reportedly provides a profit boost between spring break and the height of summer vacation season. DeSantis, meanwhile, has been in a protracted battle with the Walt Disney Company ever since then-CEO Bob Chapek denounced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Clark told the AP that he wishes DeSantis would come out to see one of the many drag performances at the various Gay Days events happening at venues around Orlando this weekend. “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,” he said.
Ira Douglas, who has attended Gay Days in the past, admitted that the political climate in Florida is “very frightening” for the LGBTQ+ community right now. But, he told USA Today, he still plans to attend this year’s event. “We have a lot of brothers, sisters, siblings, and allies down there that I feel need to know that we love and support them.”