Gay Days Anaheim returns to the Disneyland Resort next weekend (Friday, September 30 through Sunday, October 2), and co-founder/event producer Eddie Shapiro couldn't be more excited.
In 1998, after Disneyland canceled their annual one-night private party for gays and lesbians, Shapiro organized the debut of Gay Days Anaheim with fellow co-founder Jeffrey Epstein. In its first year the event attracted approximately 2,500 people. Next weekend, more than 30,000 people are expected to attend.
Shapiro took some time out of his busy schedule to talk with me about the Gay Days Anaheim's history, what attendees can expect next weekend, and his hatred of the word "tolerant."
OC Weekly: How did the idea for Gay Days Anaheim start, and how did that idea then become a reality?
Eddie Shapiro: Jeffrey (Epstein) and I are both ridiculous Disney freaks and, in 1997, we went to what was then called "Gay Night" at Disneyland. It happened after the park had closed to regular guests and we hated it. For starters, it felt a bit like being given access to the service entrance; we were allowed in, but only after the families had gone home. And then, once there, there were no characters, parades, fireworks or open restaurants. Stores were closed. It didn't feel like the real Disneyland experience. That same year we went to Gay Days in Orlando, and Jeffrey came up with the idea to bring some of what we saw there back to California. I want to stress, though, that we were really only interested in bringing some of it back. We love that event, and we go every year. But Gay Days Orlando is a very big party that just happens to be at Disney World. The parks seem almost incidental. We wanted the California event to be focussed on the resort and the parks.
The event isn't recognized by Disney as an "official day" in the park yet, but they've remained fairly supportive of the event from afar. Is it your hope that some day Disney will officially recognize Gay Days and, if so, do you see that happening anytime soon?
I hope not! While it would be lovely to be on Disney's website and calendar as an "official" event, we can do so much more because we are independent of them. I don't see Disney having a dance party with go-go boys, do you?
How is this year's event going to be different from ones of the past?
I'm single this year! Oh, wait, you didn't mean for me personally, did you? This year, in addition to the events that our guests have come to love over the years, we are adding a slew of new elements. We will have our first Ladies Night, featuring the hysterical lesbian comedienne Suzanne Westenhoefer doing her show Semi-Sweet. We'll also have a lesbian lounge/after-party. And I am pretty thrilled to be adding An Intimate Evening With Carol Channing, benefiting Carol's foundation to put arts back into the public schools. Plus we will be screening two new ABC pilots, G.C.B., starring Kristin Chenoweth, and Suburgatory, starring Jeremy Sisto. And we'll be premiering the new Logo series The A-List: Dallas. And, as if all of that isn't enough, our Welcome Center at the Grand Californian will be bigger than ever! Lots of new stuff!
What is the projected attendance of this year's event, and how has attendance changed over the years?
We expect 30,000 this year, which is a big jump from that first year when we had roughly 2,000. It continues to grow every year!
A small group of people feel the event is pushing the "gay agenda" on the public. Over the years, have you seen people grow more tolerant of the annual event, or are attendees still confronted with some resistance?
I hate the word "tolerant" because it implies that people are suffering but are silent about it. But I will say that the amount of negativity that we hear and that Disney hears has diminished significantly. Last year, it was virtually none (although there is always a random story of someone getting called a name in the park, and there is always at least one email talking to me about my sins). But mostly, and amazingly, the feedback we get from straight people is very positive.
Have attendees ever encountered physical threats or been the subject of anything more than snide comments?
Not that I am aware of. Why? You wanna start something?
At what point during Gay Days Anaheim's history did you realize it was becoming a very large and popular event?
I can't pinpoint a moment in time, but I will say that this year, with everything we added, I needed to remind myself that the real star is still the parks. But that's why we have so many events in the parks, not just around them; we want the Disneyland experience to always be the central draw.
Why Disneyland? Why not Knotts Berry Farm or Universal Studios? What is the draw and benefit of holding the event at Disneyland over other locations?
I love those parks, but Disneyland touches people at their hearts. In my opinion, their attractions, their characters, and the world they create has far greater emotional resonance than almost anywhere else. How else can you describe the joy you see when grown ups meet Donald Duck or Snow White? You don't find that at Universal. You find other cool stuff, and it's fun, but it doesn't hit you at your core. Or at mine, in any event.
What one specific thing from next week's three-day event are you looking forward to the most?
One? You want me to pick one? That's like asking which is your favorite child? I am very psyched about Plunge!, our pool party. Last year it was a blast and I have every reason to expect that this second year will be equally great. Carol Channing, of course. And I gotta say, I love just sitting on Main Street and watching as it all goes by. You see everyone and it's really pretty special.
Lastly, what can attendees expect for next year's event? Has planning already begun, or are you too focused on getting through next week?
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Learn more about Gay Days Anaheim here.