Disney is one of the richest companies in the world, and there’s no doubt its enduring popularity within the LGBTQ+ community has played some role in that. Unfortunately, Disney has not repaid the support in kind, which makes being a queer Disney fan complicated, to say the least. Two Disney influencers explain just how complicated that is in a recent exclusive from The Advocate, sharing their frustration with the company even as they advocate for change.
Jodi Davis-Pacheco runs the Disney-themed Instagram page @ExtraMagicalAdventures. After getting her start with a job in one of the parks, she has since become a women and gender studies professor at Cal State Fullerton. “I teach queer studies now, but I always joke that my time as a cast member at Disneyland is the gayest job I’ve ever had,” she says.
Davis-Pacheco explains the problem succinctly: “Disney is a company that thrives because of the LGBTQ+ community that creates the magic as cast members all over their resorts and theme parks, animate their movies, write their stories and songs, dance in parades, style characters, and LGBTQ+ people that visit their parks and consume their media.
“Donating to campaigns or supporting legislation that diminishes any of that blatantly disregards the humanity of the very people that make Disney relevant.”
Disney has recently come under fire for its involvement in Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Disney has backed a number of the politicians linked to the bill, and their refusal to speak out against it inspired an employee walkout (in which participants were instructed not to wear Pride pins).
For some queer fans, the choice is simple: leave Disney behind in the dirt. But given the sheer number of properties Disney owns, from ESPN to Marvel Studios, that’s not exactly a feasible solution. And for people like Davis-Pacheco who have built a queer community around Disney, the appeal is not only personal but intrinsically tied to their identity.
“Disneyland queers time in the ways it melds together the past, present, and an imagined hopeful future,” Davis-Pacheco says. “Queerness affords a type of extended adolescence that heteronormativity does not allow. Disneyland does this too, and you are never too old to play at Disneyland.”
Influencer Francis Dominic has a similarly long relationship to Disney, though he rejects the term ‘Disney Gay’, saying, “Do y’all call people Disney Straight?” He recalls, “I was literally wrapped in a Mickey Mouse baby blanket when I was born.”
For Dominic, his anger is directed less so at Disney as a brand and more so at the people in charge. That is why he is not abandoning Disney just yet. “I wanted to fight for [Disney],” he says. “I wanted to be vocal about something I loved, and I wasn’t going to let another white man destroy something I cared about.”
It is pressure like this that has gotten to Disney. They ultimately reversed their stance on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. They have also walked back their alleged censorship practices to pave the way for queer representation in films Lightyear and the upcoming Strange World. Of course, it’s not Disney that deserves credit but the creators and fans advocating consistently behind the scenes for a magical kingdom that lives up to its name.