Disney

Marketing the Rainbow

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Case study: (Gay Days) Disney

& other events

Branche: Entertainment

Disneyland Paris Pride

From 2014 onwards, Magical Pride was organized in Disneyland Paris, the European version of Gay Days. This was an initiative of Greatdays Holidays and Manchester Pride, not set up by Disney.


And then things changed! Launched in 2019 we saw the first Disney-sponsored Gay Day at a Disney park! Hugo Martin of the Los Angeles Times wrote that the event "marks a dramatic shift for the world's biggest theme park operator", noting that The Walt Disney Company has previously allowed independent groups to stage gay-themed events in its parks in the United States, Japan and China but never participated themselves. The Advocate said that the event signified another step in Disney's evolution of acceptance of their LGBT fans. Remarkably, many conservative organizations which previously criticised Disney for their pro-LGBT actions stayed silent on the announcement.

Similar events like Gay Days Disney are or were: Gay Days Anaheim, Gay Days & Nights Las Vegas, Fantasypride (Phantasialand, Germany), Gay Sunday at the London Zoo, Gaydar Days at Thorpe Park and Alton Towers (both UK), GayDay@Efteling (NL), Pink Monday at the Tilburg annual fair (NL) and Pink Wednesday in the Four Days Marches Nijmegen (NL).

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The party is planned for the first Saturday of June, similar to the Gay Days held in Disney World and Disneyland. The inaugural party was a "private party", which means that there was no general public. A ticket included access to select attractions, Disney Character Meet and Greets, a "Magical March of Diversity Parade", DJs, live music performances with "Karaoke Theatre Experiences", as well as themed photo locations. Entertainment included Years & Years lead singer Olly Alexander, Boy George, and acts with significant LGBTQ fanbase like Corine and Sindykatz.


The 2020 event, "A Magical Celebration of Diversity" was cancelled due to COVID. It was announced, however, that Disneyland Paris Pride II was taking place 21 June 2021.

Article last updated Jul 17, 2021

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Just when they launched a Pride collection and Disney properties began making Pride Month posts, they were hit with a lawsuit from an executive accusing them of discriminating on the basis of someone’s sexual orientation. Many of the criticisms stem from the fact that Disney censored or allegedly removed content about LGBT characters, especially in Disney content made available outside of the United States.


According to Forbes, “Disney has pioneered their ‘first’ gay character at least 7 times, give or take,” from recent movies or shows that “all feature minor characters who make exceedingly subtle references hinting at same-sex attraction.” Because of that, none of these LGBT characters really stick around in collective memory long enough to make an impression, and so some fans see Disney as trying to “pull the same trick” each time of getting praised for its reported first.

Other "gay days"

2021 Pride Month

When Disney begun celebrating Pride Month in 2021, it was met with a heavy load of criticism from fans, employees, and activists, mainly with accusations that Disney was actually harming the LGBT community.

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LGBT cartoon characters

"Disney finally makes queer history with long-awaited bisexual lead" was the headline across LGBT media in 2020. The Owl House, which airs on the Disney Channel, had previously dropped hints that its lead character Luz might be queer. Creator Dana Terrace wrote on Twitter that it had always been her intention to include “queer kids in the main cast”. “When we were greenlit I was told by certain Disney leadership that I could NOT represent any form of bi or gay relationship on the Channel. I’m bi! I want to write a bi character, dammit! Luckily my stubbornness paid off and now I am VERY supported by current Disney leadership.” 


Previously the popular Disney cartoon series Gravity Falls had revealed a same-sex romance in its final episode: recurring police officer characters Sheriff Blubs and Deputy Durlan were presented as an item.

Love song

In 2021, High School Musical: The Musical: The Series made Disney history with the studio’s first-ever same-sex love song. The spin-off continued its second season with a historic moment. In the episode, Carlos Rodriguez (played by Frankie Rodriguez) discovers that his boyfriend Seb (Joe Serafini) feels insecure in their relationship. So, in classic High School Musical fashion, he decides to prove his devotion in a song. The ballad, titled “In a Heartbeat”, details how “fantastic” Seb is and how Carlos would “keep coming back” to his boyfriend “in a heartbeat”. Carlos sings that he hopes Seb knows he will “never dance alone”.

How it began


Gay Days Disney started as an informal event in 1991, when 3,000 gays and lesbians from central Florida decided to gather in Disney World on one day, wearing red shirts to make their presence more visible. By 1995, the event had grown to 10,000 participants and as of 2010 approximately 150,000 LGBTs, their families, friends and supporters attended the six-day gathering (including various pool parties, conventions, festivals, a business expo, activities for kids, etc.) with 20,000 to 30,000 going to Disney on the final day. Now, the event annually pumps an estimated USD 100 million into the Orlando economy.


The popularity of the event is seen by some attendees as a way of "reclaiming" normal joys of childhood lost to homophobia in their earlier years. Growth in attendance also reflects the growing number of LGBT families with children.


Going commercial


The huge success of this event pretty soon attracted the attention of companies, interested in sharing in the - financial - success. After years of discrete participation, Orlando's attractions industry took a more visible and active role in the annual gathering.


In 2009, the 2-year-old Blue Man Group show in Universal Orlando's CityWalk entertainment district became a “bronze-level sponsor” - the first top-line attraction to become such. Calling Gay Days a "significant annual event" in Central Florida, Blue Man Group said it wanted to extend a special offer to thank those attending for their patronage in the past.


The same year, SeaWorld Orlando's Discovery Cove theme park purchased a modest USD 5,000 marketing package and was listed as a Gay Days “partner”.


One reason for the late support (18 years after kick-off) is the fear of repercussions from the conservatives - which to a certain extent was justified. Christian groups accused Disney of not doing anything to stop the event. The Southern Baptist Convention boycotted Disney for eight years. Another organization flew banner planes one year "warning" families of gay events at Disney that weekend (picture left).


Marketing discount tickets and vacation packages to a designated group doesn't constitute an endorsement or sponsorship, said Nick Gollattscheck, director of marketing and communications for SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. "We feel the experiences we have are available for everybody."


Disney's involvement


Walt Disney World echoed a similar welcome-to-all philosophy, but does not sanction Gay Days (and officially tells employees to treat it as any other summer day).


The note on the right was used by an anti-gay group to demonstrate that Disney did support the Gay Days, and thereby "the gay agenda".


"I think that the way we view it now is we strive to create marketing messages that appeal to a broad range of audiences, including the LGBT community," said Andrea Finger, a Disney spokeswoman. As a hospitality business, she said, the giant resort and its theme parks are "committed to fostering a welcoming environment" for all guests.


Accomodation


At some point a local Doubletree resort dubbed itself the "official" hotel for the event, with convention space rented to various businesses (bathroom remodelers, gourmet cooking suppliers, sex toys, etc.) and organizations (free health tests, vaccinations, etc.) pitching to attendees, creating a sort of Gay Expo.


As a host hotel, the 394-room Royal Plaza was sold out in 2009 and didn't expect a dip in guest spending during that year's event.


And the 626-room Regal Sun Resort, which hosts the women of Gay Days, was expecting a near-sellout for the weekend. Bookings were flat compared with the year before, but General Manager Jay Leonard said that's "pretty remarkable" when compared with how other annual conventions have fared so far this year. "For our 626 rooms, it has a great impact," he said. "It's a piece of business that we love hosting, and we enjoy having their business in our portion of the community."


The event's economic clout cannot be ignored: if organizers' estimates are correct, Gay Days draws more people than Orlando's biggest trade convention, the International Builders' Show, which draws about 100,000 participants when it's in town.


Boycotts


Although the Gay Days were - of course - condemned by the Religious Right, they did not announce a boycott in this case. However, when Disney announced that it would sell its theme-wedding package to same-sex couples in 2007, the opponents reacted predictably. “America continues to slide toward the abyss. God help us!” cried Vision America.


"We are in the hospitality business and our parks and resorts are open to everyone,” said a Disney spokesman. The AFA insinuated it would revive the boycott they had churned up against Disney from 1996-2005, from the moment the company began giving benefits to same-sex employees in domestic partnerships until the time the “culprit” CEO Michael Eisner left the company. This revival did not happen.


Disney's stance


The Walt Disney Company doesn’t seem to be shy when it comes to making bold statements supporting equal rights for the LGBT community. The company signed amicus briefs for the DOMA and Prop 8 cases back in 2013. They also signed a friend-of-the-court brief in 2015 urging the Supreme Court to rule in favor of marriage equality, and after the court did just that, Disney World lit up Cinderella’s castle in rainbow colors. 


In 2015, Disney made yet another bold statement, but hardly anyone noticed. One of the stores in Disneyland set up a new window display featuring a boy mannequin with traditionally feminine attire: a Minnie Mouse shirt and hat, carrying a Minnie Mouse purse. The "gender non-conforming mannequin" was standing amongst a range of toys including dolls and a Snow White storybook.


While it’s true that the Walt Disney Company has been vocal about supporting LGBT rights, they still have a long way to go when it comes to depicting LGBT characters in their movies and television shows. The Disney Channel allegedly maintained an unofficial ban on LGBT issues in the past – but the policy appeared to be relaxed in 2014, when it finally featured its first same-sex couple on an episode of Good Luck Charlie, one of the network’s most popular original comedies. More recently, Zootopia and Frozen featured characters that appeared to be same-sex couples, though it was not explicitly confirmed in either case.


Early 2017 Disney's cartoon Star vs. the Forces of Evil featured the subtle moment of a gay kiss. In the episode, main character Star is left lovesick at a concert when her best friend Marco shares a dance and kiss with his crush Jackie instead of her. The moment was so subtle that it even escaped the notice of America’s puritanical self-appointed TV censors, One Million Moms...


However, that is about it for this media and entertainment giant. Walt Disney Studios even received a failing grade from GLAAD on the 2015 Studio Responsibility Index, an annual study that maps the quantity, quality and diversity of LGBT people in films by major motion picture studios.