From the New York Times:
ORLANDO, Fla. — Last Friday evening, about 6,000 people — almost all of them gay men — poured into a Walt Disney World water park near Orlando, Fla. Each had spent $100 or more on tickets for a private, adults-only Pride bacchanal called Riptide. “For one night, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park becomes entirely yours for the party of the year,” online ads had promised. “Be part of the magic!”
An actual rainbow arched over the park’s thunder-shower-soaked parking lot as the sun set, prompting several attendees to joke that Disney had outdone itself with Pride theming this year. But the party was not a Disney-orchestrated event, not by a long shot. A few ticket holders turned up in wrestling singlets, while others had outfitted themselves in bondage-scene chest harnesses. Later, a squadron of go-go boys ceded the stage to the drag queen Trinity the Tuck.
I stood among the revelers wearing a black Polo shirt and khaki shorts, which led to an impromptu intervention from a stranger, Jose Rodriguez, 27. “What’s with your outfit?” he asked. “You look like an uptight soccer dad, and it’s not a good vibe. Go take off some of those clothes!”
Mr. Rodriguez was right in sizing me up as an interloper: I had not come to Typhoon Lagoon to dance (thump, thump, thump) or flaunt my muscles (hah!) or flirt with tipsy abandon in the colossal wave pool. I was there on a fact-finding mission. . . .
Disney has never endorsed Gay Days, a version of which takes place in the fall at Disneyland in California. Nor has it tried to rein it in. There isn’t much the company could do anyway: For red shirt days, attendees buy tickets like anyone else. The planning is handled by private companies like One Magical Weekend, Gay Days Inc., and the lesbian-focused Girls in Wonderland.
I had long heard stories about Gay Days, but I was confused about what it was. The goings-on are not sanctioned by Disney but take place, in part, on Disney property? Adult attendees spend much of their time spinning in teacups and waving at Winnie the Pooh like everyone else … and then go carousing at private events that make Grindr look tame? I’m admittedly the uptight-soccer-dad variety of gay man, but the components did not seem to fit together.
This year, another question arose: Would the anti-L.G.B.T.Q. vitriol that has surrounded Disney in recent months spill over to Gay Days?
. . . But the longer I hung out at the Magic Kingdom among the revelers, the more I was struck by the routine nature of the day. There were no protesters. There were no cautionary signs. The only tension I saw came from a gay man who was cranky that a Disney manager had told him that his shirt could be viewed as inappropriate. It featured Pluto in leather gear and the phrase “I like it wruff.”
There were loads of people in red shirts who were not at Disney World for Gay Days — and none seemed to care when they learned of the color’s significance on this day. “Maybe my daughter will think I’m cool now,” one guy said with a grin, declining to give his name and heading toward the Pirates of the Caribbean boat ride.
For Mr. Mathison and his husband, Frank McKeown, 47, the blasé attitude represents a significant change from how things used to be.
“About 10 years ago at Gay Days, we were all in line in our red shirts at Big Thunder Mountain,” Mr. Mathison said, referring to Disney’s Frontierland roller coaster. “It was a sea of red. And this little girl came running up to her dad in a panic. ‘Dad! Dad! Take off your shirt. If you’re wearing red, it means you’re gay!’”
Mr. McKeown picked up the story. “This guy was very, very good looking,” he said. “And so we all started chanting, ‘Take it off! Take it off!’”
They broke into laughter. “Ahh, those were the days,” Mr. McKeown said. . . .