Tens of thousands are expected in Orlando this weekend in celebration of “Gay Days,” an annual tradition where people from all over the world come to celebrate at Walt Disney World and other theme parks to kick off Pride Month.
The celebration is still on despite recent warnings from civil rights groups not to visit the state because of recent anti-LGBTQ+ laws.
Florida’s governor has been loud and clear when it comes to these bills he’s signing into law. Which are driving people away and creating an environment where the LGBTQ+ community says they don’t feel safe.
Scripps News spoke to the CEO of Gay Days, who said now is not the time to run away but to stand together.
It’s not just a party; for many, it’s a tradition, a time to be seen, and a time to celebrate being yourself.
It’s kickoff season for the annual Gay Days celebration in Orlando, which brings in people from all around the world.
The decades-long tradition dates back to 1991.
Tens of thousands show up wearing red shirts, meeting at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World.
Some have been attending for decades.
Michele Mehnert says she’s here to stand up for what she believes in and show support.
“I am an absolute supporter of love is real. You’re born into what your beliefs are, whether your family supports it or not. And I’ve decided to be the person in my family who has supported that,” said Mehnert.
SEE MORE: Officials put extra focus on safety at Pride Month celebrations
Joseph Clark, the CEO of Gay Days Inc., says the multi-day event is a time for people to come together while also having fun.
“Our pool parties, definitely our pool parties,” said Clark when asked what Gay Days is most known for.
But this year has come with its own set of challenges.
“Still a good turnout, but not as good as what we would want or expected,” said Clark.
Ahead of Pride celebrations, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups issued travel and safety warnings as the state continues to pass laws they say are “hostile” to the LGBTQ+ community.
Republican presidential candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed bills that ban gender-affirming health care for minors, stop transgender people from entering public bathrooms that match their gender identities, and restrict drag performances in front of minors.
He also expanded the Parental Rights in Education Bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by critics, to all grade levels, which prohibits schools from teaching sexual orientation and gender identity.
Disney criticized the law, opening a legal battle between the two.
“We run the state of Florida. They do not run the state of Florida,” said DeSantis about Disney. “We stand for the protection of our children. We will fight those who seek to rob them of their innocence, and on that point, there will be no compromise.”
“I believe that it is absolutely a targeted attack on the LGBTQ community,” said Clark about what the governor is doing in the state. “It makes me question at times whether or not the state of Florida wants me to be here.”
Clark says the state’s laws are driving people away, forcing them to move out of the state. But he wants to send out the message with this year’s event that they aren’t going anywhere.
“We’re stronger in numbers, first and foremost,” said Clark. “I wish that he [the governor] would open his eyes up and see that he’s affecting people, real people. He may not agree with somebody being a member of the LGBTQ community, but we are people. We don’t deserve this.”
Clark said that there were a couple tournaments that had to be canceled in Pride Cup, an offshoot event from Gay Days, because teams pulled out due to those travel advisory warnings.
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