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Gay Day at Disney World among new book’s topics

WASHINGTON (BP)–While Disney World denies supporting the theme park’s annual Gay Day, the authors of a new book claim the entertainment giant profits handsomely from the event.
In “Disney: The Mouse Betrayed,” Peter and Rochelle Schweizer outline allegations that Disney is more than a passive spectator in the celebration.
“They [Disney] are doing whatever they can to maximize their return from the event,” the husband-and-wife team quote Gay Day organizer Doug Swallow as saying. The statement appears in a chapter titled, “Mr. Minnie Mouse.”
The authors include a similar comment from Kelly McQuain of the Philadelphia Gay News. “Disney has coopted the queers,” he is quoted as saying. “In its voracious consumption of the American entertainment dollar, Disney has integrated us into its market.”
In the book, a Disney spokesman responded, “We had no official dealings with members of this group and they were afforded no special privileges or considerations.”
While a call seeking further comment from Disney World was not returned, “Mouse Betrayed” is stirring considerable controversy. And Disney is speaking against it in other forums.
Disney spokesman Ken Green told USA Today the book “mixes truthful incidents with inaccuracies. They had a platform and sought information to support their thesis.”
Disney also made available to some reporters a 1993 article from London’s Sunday Times that raised doubts about the identity of several sources in another of Peter Schweizer’s books.
Also, The New York Times reported recently that the Internet site of Brill’s Content magazine cited two sources denying they voiced quotes included in the Disney book.
Schweizer, meanwhile, stands by his work, telling USA Today, “Is what I wrote factual? That’s what counts.”
Despite Disney’s denials, the Schweizers allege the company helps promote Gay Day. As evidence they cite a 1996 internal memo from the general manager of Disney’s Polynesian Resort.
In that memo, Clyde Min wrote that each Disney World resort had been asked to supply one management team member to assist with Gay Day.
“I am looking for any volunteers who may be interested in helping with this event,” the memo said. “Please let me know as soon as possible if you are interested as I need to respond with the name of our one volunteer very quickly.”
Other Disney actions indicate it is actively involved, the Schweizers wrote, claiming the company has, in previous years, allowed “official/unofficial greeters” to hand out Gay Day fliers and literature, a privilege not extended to other groups.
“To accommodate the Gay Day crowd in 1997, officials at Disney’s Pleasure Island nightclub took the special step of connecting the Mannequins and 8TRAX dance clubs for an after-hours mega-disco,” the Schweizers wrote.
“Then there are the signs that occasionally pop up … like the double entendre at a Frontierland snackbar that shrieks, ‘Liberate Your Appetite.’ At the Country/ Western bar, cast members have been known to sprinkle gay comments throughout the show.”
Among other items cited by the Schweizers:
— Gay Day promotional literature shows Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck holding hands. Officially these images are used without Disney’s permission, but the normally litigious company has winked at the practice, the authors wrote.
— At one time the company tried to stem problems by posting signs at the ticket booth. They warned patrons that members of the homosexual community had chosen to visit the park and that Disney did not discriminate against anyone’s right to do so.
But the signs soon came down for good; the Schweizers wrote, because they may have offended organizers. However, they wrote, their absence also implies Disney has no prior knowledge or control over Gay Day.
— Disney is “undoubtedly … happy” with the success of the event, which in 1995 generated $14 million in sales of tickets, meals, hotel rooms and bright red T-shirts that have become a signature item, they said.
“Even though Gay Day is not an official Disney event, there are things the company could do to temper the more peculiar aspects of the festivities,” the Schweizers wrote.
“Most complaints from the guests are related to the sometimes outrageous behavior that takes place — public same-sex kissing, flagrant costumes, confrontational T-shirts, and so forth.
“Disney already has rules that forbid guests from wearing clothes with overtly political or sexual messages,” the authors continued. “The annals of Disney are replete with examples of people booted from the park because they refused to cover up explicit T-shirts of heavy metal bands. Other visitors have been escorted out of the park for voicing political messages that might offend some park guests.”
Disney has taken special precautions in the past to ensure certain groups abide by park decorum, the Schweizers wrote. Two years ago, Brazilian tour groups were told to avoid such actions as throwing coins inside tubas or forcing people to join conga lines, the authors wrote. But the authors noted that Disney wouldn’t say why similar warnings aren’t extended to Gay Day attendees.
However, one reason may be the flourishing gay subculture the Schweizers say exists throughout the company. According to the book, the Walt Disney Company has the entertainment industry’s largest gay and lesbian employee organization.
The Schweizers quote Garret Hicks, an employee of the Burbank, Calif., film studio and co-chair of Disney’s Lesbian and Gay United Employees, saying, “There are hordes of gay and lesbian people at Disney.”
While Hicks may have an incentive to exaggerate, the authors wrote that they received similar reaction from Thomas Schumacher, vice president of Disney Animation. “There are a lot of gay people here at every level,” he told them. “It is a very supportive environment.”
The authors also quoted a training coordinator at EPCOT Center as saying that “gays outnumber the straights at Futureland operations, and there’s nothing in the closet at Guest Relations.”
While there has always been a homosexual presence at Disney, the Schweizers wrote, in the past it had not been a political issue. The new development is the gay community’s visibility and activity within Disney, they wrote.
“At the AIDS walk in Los Angeles, Disney always manages to have the largest teams carrying the biggest banners,” Todd White, director of creative detail, reportedly told the authors. “I take my partner with me to Disney functions, and we’re always treated with respect.”

    About the Author

  • Ken Walker