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After a Political Storm, Gay Days Return to Disney

The anti-L.G.B.T.Q. protests culminated in 1997, when the Southern Baptist Convention announced a formal boycott, spurred, in part, by Disney’s refusal to block Gay Days. (The church lifted the boycott in 2005.) Would Gay Days 2022 mark a return to that divisive time?

“There is definitely an added significance this year,” Tom Christ, who helped found One Magical Weekend in 2009, said by phone shortly before the event. “One way to fight back is to show our numbers.” He ended our call with an admonishment about my impending visit: “If you see any hanky-panky,” he said, “I don’t want to read about it.” (I did not witness such behavior. Unless you count a few hairy, heavyset men — bears, in gay slang — rubbing bellies at the Riptide party in a pool area deemed “bear lagoon” while wearing bootleg “Little Mermaid” trunks.)

On Saturday morning, as “Let’s Go Fly a Kite” from “Mary Poppins” played on the loudspeakers, Gay Days participants streamed into Disney World. Many of them wore red shirts with the words “SAY GAY” on the back, a reference to the recent controversy. Veronica Starr, 28, and her wife, Samantha Starr, 32, rolled up with plans to ride Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. “It means a lot, to be seen,” Veronica said. “When we all wear red, we can’t be ignored.”

Both women said a favorite part of Gay Days involved running into allies, including volunteers from Free Mom Hugs, an L.G.B.T.Q. support organization. Just then, Kerri McCoy arrived with her husband and eight teenagers in red shirts, members of a group that supports L.G.B.T.Q. youth. “All the Disney cast members have been waving and telling us to have a happy Pride,” she said, using Disney’s term for company employees.

Although Disney does not sponsor or promote Gay Days, its Parks & Resorts division celebrates Pride month with a barrage of rainbow merchandise in its shops, including a button featuring Mickey Mouse and a rainbow along with the slogan “Belong, Believe, Be Proud.” There were also rainbow-themed desserts.

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