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If anyone were to ask you to list international brands associated with traditional family values, chances are that one of the names you’d come up with is Disney. Since the Walt Disney Studios were founded in California in 1923, the brand has encapsulated the image of the all-American family – a cinematic version of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Disneyland (now Disneyland Resort) opened in California in 1955, followed by Disneyworld in Florida and Disneyland Paris – with all three not just defining what a theme park should be, but reinforcing those all-American values which Disney’s movies had been reinforcing since the 1920s.

You could be forgiven for thinking the brand that epitomises the American family more than any other would have no time for the LGBTQ community. Well – you’d be wrong! Disneyworld in Florida has been hosting a ‘gay day’ since 1991. Back then, the event attracted 3,000 people; nowadays, expect to see more than 150,000. A similar event, Magical Pride, takes place every autumn at Disneyland Paris.

The cynical among you may put this down to a large corporation wanted to get their hands on the much-vaunted “Pink Pound”. It’s true that many companies worldwide, especially in Pride season, feel they have no choice other than to fly a rainbow flag or put a picture of happy gay employees on the diversity section of their website, but Disney has done so much more. In fact, Disneyworld’s Gay Day brought about a huge backlash from “traditional family” advocates in the United States. One organisation, the Southern Baptist Convention, instigated an eight year boycott, while another flew a light aircraft over the park warning good Christian folk of the evils that lurked below. There is no doubt that Disney’s embracing of the LGBTQ community drove some customers away, but the company did not waver and has continued to support us.

Now, for the first time, Disney is to have an openly gay male character in its new Jungle Cruise movie, and it seems likely that, once again, there will be a backlash from some on the Christian right. But again, the company is sticking to its guns.

I recently returned from a holiday to Disneyworld with my twin daughters. I must admit that I imagined that I might feel a little out of place, given Disney’s traditional family reputation. Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course, our little family was very much in the minority – it was the summer holidays and there are more straight people than gay people out there, but we could not have been made to feel more welcome.

This is important. With the huge increase in two-mum and two-dad families, the children of those families will want to go on holiday to Disney in the same way as kids of straight parents. Many gay and lesbian parents might think twice, precisely because they view the Disney brand as so very traditional and “not the place for them”.  If my experience is anything to go by (and, while I was on holiday, I met other same-sex parents who would agree with me) please do not be deterred. While maintaining its comforting, almost nostalgic traditions, Disney has moved with the times and will welcome families of all stripes irrespective of your sexuality.


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Linda Riley

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