For one weekend this fall — October 2-4, to be specific — the happiest place on earth becomes one the gayest places on the planet.
That’s when thousands of LGBT revelers walk through the gates of the Magic Kingdom transforming Disneyland into a landscape of red T-shirts.
Since 1998 when it was organized by Eddie Shapiro and Jeffrey Epstein (who also coauthored the guide book Queens in the Kingdom), the annual event Gay Days Anaheim has drawn many thousands of fairy tale fans to the amusement park to thrill to both the exhilarating rides and the exciting parties. Shapiro, who now produces the weekend solo, chatted with Queerty about how Gay Days has evolved over the years, what he has planned for guests next month and how to maximize your pleasure during the weekend.
Queerty: This will be the 18th annual Gay Days weekend. How do you keep the activities fresh every year?
Eddie Shapiro: One of the things I adore about producing Gay Days is that I can add whatever I want, so if I can imagine it, I can add it to the weekend. I asked Audra McDonald if she wanted to perform last year and she couldn’t, but this year she could so, poof, it’s on the schedule. Ben Rimalower is a friend of mine and I saw his fantastic show, Patti Issues, off-Broadway. I asked him if he wanted to do it at Gay Days, he did, and, poof, It’s on the schedule. At the same time, we keep a lot of the favorites like our three signature parties, but even those change every year with different headliners. And we keep our in-park activities as Gay Days traditions because people love them!
They are both very involved and not at all. On the one hand, all of the programming decisions are done by me, but on the other, I couldn’t make most of them work without Disney’s facilitation. They are very cooperative as long as we stay respectful of their mission, which is to provide a great Gay Days experience while at the same time not disrupting the resort for the non-Gay Days guests. That doesn’t mean that we have to “tone it down” or anything, but it does mean that we don’t own the park. We all wear our red shirts, but we don’t walk down Main Street chanting or anything.
Since it’s primarily a family-oriented theme park, how receptive have you found the typical hetero-headed families to be toward the significant presence of LGBT folks?
That has changed so much over the 18 years we’ve been doing this. There are always people who roll their eyes, who mutter under their breath and stuff like that. But I think these days, homophobic people are a little embarrassed to be overt in showing their homophobia, just as racists now know better than to proclaim their racism.But I have to tell you, I get lots of email from straight families who are totally complimentary about Gay Days. We have a reputation of being polite and fun-loving and it’s infectious. I get far more fan mail from straight families than hate mail.
It’s really just so that we can spot each other easily. But it’s amazing how powerful it is. When you see all that red in the park, the feeling that we are, on this weekend, the majority and not the minority is glaringly obvious. It’s really rewarding looking around the park, no matter where you are, and seeing red everywhere.
What are some of the notable ways the weekend has evolved over the years?
When we started, we began just like Gay Days in Orlando began: a few friends spread the word to show up on a given Saturday, wearing red. We handed out fliers in WeHo, we sent messages in chat rooms. There was no Facebook then. After a couple of years, as our numbers grew, we started planning unofficial events. Meet us in the park and stuff like that. And then, in year six, we added the first “official” event, Kingdom, our dance party, and we’ve been growing ever since. It helped that the park grew, too. When we started, there was no California Adventure. Now there are two parks and a whole downtown area that allows us to create a weekend’s worth of fun.
You know, we always have a proposal or two, and this year, like last, Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings will have a table in our Welcome Center, marketing same-sex weddings. How’s that for progress?
What have been some of the most memorable highlights from past years for you?
Oh, there are so many. I expect the Audra McDonald concert to be one of them. The Q & A I did with Carol Channing a few years ago was an absolute highlight. Our first pool party. Jennifer Hudson singing at Kingdom. But really, the thing that what I truly enjoy the most is walking down Main Street and just seeing the joy. It really is something. I think we as a society, and even as a gay society, are a little jaded these days. But boy, people really get in touch with their joy at Gay Days and watching it manifest throughout the park always makes me very happy.
Every performer knows that there is no more adoring audience than a gay audience. Chita Rivera once told me, though, that gay audiences are also the most discerning, so having their love was especially meaningful to her. We are an ideal audience, if I do say so myself. And then, of course, there’s getting to add “playing Disneyland” to your resume!
What are the secrets to maximizing the time at the park and enjoying as many rides as possible?
It’s funny, because on most days of the year, when I am in a Disney park, I am known as a bit of a sergeant. I am there at park opening very strategically getting Fast Passes and rushing from ride to ride before lines get insane. It’s important to have a strategy planned, leaving the less crowded rides, such as Small World or the Tiki Room, for the middle of the day. But on Gay Days. it’s very different. I think the thrill is meandering around taking in the environment, awash in red. And riding the rides like the steam boat, the Jungle Cruise or the train, where you can talk to other guests. I don’t usually ride those on other days, but I do on Gay Days! And I will always cram in Space Mountain if I can. And if I am seeing someone, the Haunted Mansion. Twice.
For more information on Gay Days, go here and watch the official teaser for the festivities below.