Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ anti-LGBTQ policies have some Disney LGBTQ fans and Disney World employees nervous to see what the future holds for the Magic Kingdom. Adding to the concerns is Disney’s legal battle with the state over control of the special tourist district where the Disney World parks reside.
Following the passage in 2022 of Florida’s parental rights in education law, known to critics as the «Don’t Say Gay» law, the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida issued a travel advisory for the state, warning tourists of “hostile” policies. DeSantis views the ad as a «political stunt,» said deputy press secretary Jeremy T. Redfern.
Disney sued DeSantis this year over the authority of the Central Florida Tourism Supervisory District company where the Disney World parks reside. Florida lawmakers plan revoke special privileges from Disney — as his exemption from state inspections — through DeSantis’s recently appointed district board of supervisors. The entertainment giant has asked the court to overturn state efforts to exert control over Walt Disney World.
Meanwhile, Florida lawmakers expanded the «Don’t Say Gay» law this year, as well as passing and proposing several anti-LGBTQ bills that address issues like the use of pronouns in schools, transgender bathroom policies, entertainment drag queens and gender-affirming doctors. Attention to transgender youth.
Gay Days, the annual Pride event where the LGBTQ community and their allies come together at Disney World, has seen a surge in emails and social media posts from guests saying they won’t participate because of «what’s going on,» said Gay Days CEO Joseph Clark. .
“Not just with ‘Don’t Say Gay’ from last year, but obviously with everything that’s happened in the last few months, in the last year,” Clark said. “I know guests have some apprehension about how welcoming Florida is as a state to an LGBTQ+ audience.”
Gay Days began in Orlando in 1991, where people from the LGBTQ community and friends were encouraged to «Wear Red and Be Seen» for a visit to Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. according to the Gay Days website. While the event is not sponsored by Disney World, the parks appear to have embraced the celebration over time, Clark said.
The parks are also home to many other LGBTQ social groups and employ a large number of LGBTQ cast members. But Disney’s LGBTQ fans living both in and outside of Florida have raised concerns about traveling to the parks.
San Antonio resident and longtime Disney fan Uriel Diaz has been to three of Disney’s theme park locations: Disneyland in California, Tokyo Disneyland in Japan, and Disney World.
Diaz, who identifies as non-binary and uses the pronouns he and they, has only been to Disney World once, in 2017. It was around Christmas time, so it was «very magical,» Diaz told NBC News. Diaz’s husband proposed to them on that trip.
“I will always remember Cinderella coming up to us and saying, ‘I’m so happy you found your prince and congratulations,’” Diaz said. «Oh my gosh, it meant a lot because it was her first time going.»
In terms of visiting “The Most Magical Place on Earth,” Diaz will wait a while before heading back to Disney World.
“I think it will be a safe space, but everything around it, everything else you have to do to get there is scary right now,” Diaz said.
Don Ford, a Clermont, Fla., resident and Disney World annual pass holder, said that while he’s not concerned about their safety in and around the parks in his central Florida area, he understands why people would want to delay your trip to Orlando from Out of State.
“My partner told me the other day, like, ‘We’ve got to come up with our evacuation plan when things start to get real,’” Ford said. «If something doesn’t change, I can foresee things getting much worse here in Florida.»
Last month, Christina Pushaw, who works as DeSantis’ director of rapid response, tweeted an article with a waving hand emoji. from the voice of florida on the results of a UCLA Williams Institute survey on the number of LGBTQ parents considering leaving the state because of the «Don’t Say Gay» law.
Travel bloggers Steph and Katie Burlton from Vancouver, Canada, were surprised at how comfortable they felt as a couple at Disney World during their 2018 visit, Katie Burlton said.
“We were pleasantly surprised by the public opinion,” said Steph Burlton. «The rules set by Disney inform public opinion because people go in there knowing they can’t just say things to people or they’ll be kicked out.»
The Burltons, who research LGBTQ laws and public opinion in countries and new places for lesbian travel guides on their blog, said they can’t advise travelers about visiting Florida and Disney World.
“It’s such an individual decision,” Katie Burlton said. “I think the community just needs to respect the decisions of everyone around them and instead of pointing fingers, just spend our energy fighting these bills.”
For now, the couple said they are more likely to visit closer parks like Disneyland and Disneyland Paris before heading back to Disney World.
For Disney World’s LGBTQ employees, the company presents an opportunity for career advancement and acceptance, said Tevae Shoels, a singer and actor on the show «Finding Nemo» at Disney World.
“A lot of my management is queer, a lot of the management at Disney is queer, as far as casting directors go, stage managers go,” said Shoels, who identifies as pansexual. “It is one thing to say that we accept and affirm people in these spaces, but quite another to say that we want to see them grow and develop within the company.”
Disney received criticism from fans and employees when then-CEO Bob Chapek delayed his response by opposing Florida’s «Don’t Say Gay» bill. He then went on to say, in light of the policy, that the company would pause political donations in the state and increase donations to advocacy groups.
“I think a lot of the support from Disney is soft in the sense that it’s like implicit support,” Shoels said. «No one openly says we’re supporting it, but it’s a bit general.»
Katie Burlton added that she’s glad the company is using its power and influence to «push the needle forward.»
Steph Burlton agreed. “I think they have stepped up and made their position clear,” he said. «They’re fighting a big battle right now, especially in Florida, and they’re sticking to their policies, and I think that’s great.»