From Being Ashamed To Putting Pride Center Stage: How Disney Came Out of the Closet

in Disney, Disney Parks, Featured

A group of people hold large balloon letters spelling "Disney" in various bright colors. The backdrop shows a stage with colorful lighting and a crowd of people cheering, creating a festive atmosphere reminiscent of a Pride Celebration at a Disney theme park.

Credit: Disney

Today, The Walt Disney Company is known for being a supporter of the LGBTQ+ community and a frequent host of pride-themed events. Disney celebrates pride in various ways across its parks and resorts, embracing diversity and inclusivity.

While the theme parks might now be known as inclusive hosts for such celebrations, that has not always been the truth. In fact, Disney’s role in the community was not entirely their choice but rather the result of “gay day” fan culture infiltrating Disney’s theme parks.

Related: Happy Pride! These Are the Gayest Things in Disney History

Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse stand together, both wearing colorful outfits. Mickey sports a white shirt with a multicolor heart design and a bright jacket, while Minnie wears a rainbow bow and a white outfit adorned with purple fringe. Both characters have cheerful expressions.
Credit: Disney

How Disney Got Pride: The Sordid History of Disney’s LGBTQ+ Community

Starting June 1, both Disneyland Resort, Walt Disney World Resort, and Disneyland Paris Resort will be fully entrenched in their yearly Pride celebrations. From Disney Pride collections to parades to special events, this annual celebration is one of Disney’s most notable recently.

At Disney’s Pride Nites, fans can fully immerse themselves in the world of Disney’s Pride celebration. From dance parties to themed photoshoots, the entire Disney park adopts the Pride theming for these events.

Through these events, Disney continues to stand as a beacon of hope and positivity for the LGBTQIA community, fostering a sense of belonging and pride among all who visit their magical theme parks and resorts. In recent years, many have commended Disney for its child-friendly Pride celebrations, and in a way, the company has embraced its role in the community at large.

However, Pride was not always Disney’s preferred consumer base. In fact, its roots in the parks have quite a controversial history, dating back to the early 90’s at Walt Disney World Resort.

Celebrating Disney Pride | Credit: Disney
Credit: Disney

How Pride Found Disney

In 1991, a newspaper ad promoting the first Gay and Lesbian Day was posted. That year, the first Gay and Lesbian Day was celebrated at Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World Resort. The event was a huge success despite it raising eyebrows from fellow park-goers.

In the highly conservative state of Florida, gay pride in the 90’s was not exactly welcome behavior. Despite the Walt Disney Company staying neutral on its stance on the community, many LGBTQ+ people found solace and safety in the stories and experiences of Disney.

Following the initial year of the event, Disney Gay Days has since become an annual event where members of the LGBTQIA community and their allies come together to celebrate diversity and inclusion at Disney theme parks. This event typically involves wearing red shirts and a “wink wink” to other Gay Day participants. It is not an official Disney event but a time when the community gathers to enjoy the parks and each other’s company.

Disneyland After Dark: Pride Nite character concept art
Credit: Disney

Participants often express that Disney Gay Days hold a special place in their hearts as a time to feel truly accepted and celebrated for who they are. The event has become a symbol of pride and unity, and it unintentionally paved the way for Disney’s role as an LGBTQ+ ally.

By 1995, Disney realized the massive commercial opportunity surrounding these Gay Days. Each year, around 32,000 people would come to the resort for these events, making it enough for Disney to offer partnership deals with event organizers. However, the event was not ever fully embraced; Disney even put out signs at the entrance to Magic Kingdom Park to warn guests of the “large number of homosexuals” that would be found inside.

Commercial Success Outweighs Conservative Disappointment

As the years went on, The Walt Disney Company found itself in a difficult place. On the one hand, Disney could clearly see the appetite for Pride celebrations at the parks. One the other hand, Disney had to worry about its fanbase at large, who often lean more conservative side of social issues.

As Pride continued to creep more and more into Disney’s park experience, criticism has still been abound. Many LGBTQ+ advocates criticize the park for celebrating Pride from a commercial viewpoint. While Pride is only one month, the existence and needs of LGBTQ+ guests and employees is a year-long commitment.

Mickey and Minnie Mouse plushes wearing rainbow clothing and holding Pride flags.
Credit: shopDisney

Other fans believe that Pride has no place in Disney Parks and that the celebration itself has inherently adult themes. To this day, Disney has constantly faced backlash from both sides for either doing too much or not doing enough for the LGBTQ+ community.

In many ways, things changed for the company when Disney’s CEO Bob Iger commended Florida Governor Ron DeSantis‘ “Don’t Say Gay” agenda. Many fans saw this as a bold move that placed Disney as an active participant in LGBTQ+ advocacy.

When it comes to Pride advocacy, the Walt Disney Company has come extremely far, but there is still much more to be done. In the future, fans will be looking to the parks worldwide to see when they will fully adopt Pride as well.

True LGBTQ+ acceptance also means embracing things like gay characters in films and offering gender-based healthcare to cast members who identify as transgender or non-binary. There is much work to be done, and fans will eagerly eye the Walt Disney Company to see if they decide to take their advocacy to the next level.

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