Thursday, May 6, 2004

Get Over It

From the Sun-Sentinel:

Some parents are upset over the timing of a school field trip that sends Broward County students to Orlando theme parks in the middle of Gay Days.

Gay Days, which is expected to bring about 140,000 people to the Orlando area in early June, is advertised as “creating a gay and lesbian atmosphere” throughout the region by organizing “theme park visits, over-the-top dance parties, and round-the-clock good times.”

“If [students] were going to New Orleans, you wouldn’t pick the week of Mardi Gras,” complains Joanne Williams of Deerfield Beach, the parent of a seventh-grader.

The principal of Lyons Creek Middle in Coconut Creek is offering refunds for the June 4 trip, saying she was unaware of the timing when the trip was scheduled. But she maintains that parents should not be concerned in the first place.

“We plan this trip every year, and it’s pretty much at the same time, and we’ve never had any problems,” Principal Barbara Barrs said.

School district officials acknowledge other Broward schools will be visiting Orlando the same week, June 1-6, but would not say which schools.

“To cancel the trip solely because of other scheduled events happening would unfairly deprive the students of this experience without a rational reason in the absence of any apparent threat to the safety and well-being of the students,” said spokesman Joe Donzelli.

Planners say Gay Days is a way for gays and lesbians and their families to be themselves on vacation.

Some Lyons Creek Middle parents argue that moms and dads — not the schools — should decide what they want their children exposed to. Two mothers say their children will not attend and a third has received a refund. They say more parents would probably feel the same if they knew about the timing.

Williams says she knew because she was in Orlando visiting with her family a few years ago when Gay Days happened to be going on. At Disney World and Universal Studios, she and her husband were offended by men groping each other in the streets, she said. She had her family left Disney early when, she says, she saw men wearing sexually explicit T-shirts and her husband saw a man in drag with no underwear beneath his skirt.

“To put your child in that, it’s inappropriate,” she said. “They are kids. If they see something, they could make comments and it could upset who they are talking to.”

Mike Record, a gay teacher at Plantation Middle School, says he has been to the parks during Gay Days and “very little goes on that a parent would have to be concerned about.” He called concerns to the contrary “homophobia.”

“The perception that children don’t belong among gay people is what [we] have been fighting for so long,” he said. “It feeds into that perception that gay people are pedophiles.”

Veronica Clemons, a spokeswoman for Disney, also disputes the mother’s version of what Gay Days is like. Disney is not an event sponsor but welcomes all guests — and requires them to abide by its policies, she said.

“It’s pretty much business as usual, it’s just a little busier. We expect all our guests to behave in a way that will not intrude on others,” she said.

She added that the park has no more problems with behavior during Gay Days than it does on average. Chris Alexander-Manley, vice president of marketing for gaydays.com, said the park does not let in guests wearing drag and, when men have changed into drag inside the park, Disney has asked them to change back or leave.

He added that many of the gays and lesbians who attend Gay Days bring their families and also want a family-friendly atmosphere.

“If they are saying there are orgies in the streets and inappropriate behavior, those are lies,” he said. “It’s just a good time.”

It’s not like you’re going to run into the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence singing a chorus of “Your Son Will Come Out Tomorrow…”