Thousands of LGBT Georgians flock to Florida this month, joining crowds from around the country at Memorial Day Weekend in Pensacola and Gay Days in Orlando.
The two celebrations began as small, informal gatherings and now draw throngs for days of events put on by multiple party promoters, for both men and women. Many vacationers — and some performers — string the two events together, hitting both for consecutive weekends of partying.
The gay gathering in Pensacola began as friends hanging out on the beach over Memorial Day Weekend. Over the years, it has grown to feature elaborately decorated shade tents lining the seashore as tens of thousands of barely-clad gay men and lesbians cruise, swim and sunbathe.
In the heyday of circuit party culture, most evening events were geared toward men, with massive parties at venues ranging from the beach to the Pensacola Civic Center. While the beach party continues, this year featuring DJ Roland Belmares, events targeting women have increased exponentially, with the weekend now offering options for gay girls and boys.
Recognizing how many local women flock to Pensacola, My Sister’s Room, Atlanta’s only lesbian bar, began hosting events at the beach four years ago. The Sexacola Beach series of events features everything from pole dancers and foam parties to singer-songwriters and drag kings.
Musical performers for this year’s Sexacola include the Maria Gabriella Band, Lindsey Hinkle and God-des & She. Events are held at Capt’n Fun’s Beach Club.
Also targeting lesbian music fans is Pensacola Unleashed, a music festival organized by singer-songwriter Kristy Lee, who is well known to Atlanta fans. The idea began ten years ago when Lee brought her guitar to Pensacola and ended up playing an unadvertised show for 800 fans. Her music festival drew 8,500 last year.
This year, she has assembled a who’s who of popular queer musicians, including Brandi Carlile, beloved Atlanta duo Indigo Girls, and Lee herself, for shows at Flounder’s Chowder House.
For the boys, Pensacola gay bar Emerald City hosts events throughout the long weekend, featuring DJs and themes like “Sweat” and “Friction” (a blacklight underwear party). But the main event for men (and some women) will be the annual Wave Beach Party on Saturday night with DJ Roland Belmares.
Outside of the beach and organized nightlife events, LGBT revelers will pack Pensacola Beach restaurants and shops throughout the weekend, as local merchants put up rainbow flags and welcome the crowd that has come to represent an important part of holiday revenue.
Gay Days at Disney
The weekend after Pensacola, LGBT travelers head to Orlando for Gay Days, another celebration that began simply but has grown to one of the biggest gay events in the country outside of Pride celebrations.
DJ Roland Belmares is hitting both Florida events, and many Georgia travelers will too.
Like Pensacola, Gay Days started small. Organizers say the first gathering was in 1991, consisting of just 3,000 people who went to Walt Disney World on the first Saturday in June — wearing red to stand out from the crowd.
That tradition continues, drawing an estimated 50,000 last year. Overall, some 150,000 gay revelers packed Orlando for the long weekend of events that now includes LGBT gathering at multiple theme parks and a full schedule of entertainment events from several, sometimes competing, party promoters.
For years, the gathering drew controversy along with the crowds. The Southern Baptist Convention cited Gay Days among its reasons for boycotting Disney (which does not officially sponsor the gay event) and right-wing preacher Pat Robertson suggested gay acceptance in Orlando could put the central Florida city in danger of hurricanes “and possibly a meteor.”
Divine retribution failed to follow, however, and Gay Days continues to grow. From girls to guys, from bears to twinks, the weekend offers something for virtually every stripe in the rainbow. In addition to daytime events at the theme parks, LGBT parties like Riptide at Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon keep attendees partying late into the night.
Celebrities scheduled to appear at Gay Days events include Judy Tenuta, Deborah Cox, Belinda Carlisle of The Go-Go’s, Erasure’s Andy Bell (who headlined Atlanta Pride last year) and Bev McClellan of “The Voice.”
Top DJs set to spin at various events include Belmares, ChiChi LaRue, Power Infiniti, Joe Gauthreaux, Danny Tenaglia, Rosabel, Manny Lehman and Twisted Dee.
Pensacola Memorial Day Weekend
Thursday: Bikini & Board Shorts Foam Party with comedy show, DJ Tina V
Friday: Sexacola Glow Party with Maria Gabriella Band, Drag King competition, DJ Tina V
Saturday: Slippery ‘n Wet Beach Party with Ying Yang Twins, DJ Liz Owen
Sunday: White Party w/ performances by Lindsey Hinkle and God-des & She
Thursday: Superfunk Fantasy, 17th Floor
Friday: Kristy Lee, 17th Floor
Saturday: Brandi Carlile, Derrick Barry (as Britney Spears/Lady Gaga)
Sunday: Indigo Girls, Kristy Lee, Hussy Hicks
Friday-Sunday: Splash Beach Fest, Park East
Saturday: Wave Beach Party with DJ Roland Belmares
Thursday: Foreplay with DJ Dewight Barkley
Friday: Beach Bingo and Strip Down with DJ Dewight Barkley
Saturday: Sweat with DJ Jay-R
Sunday: Friction blacklight underwear party with DJ Dewight Barkley
Monday: Climax with DJ Jay-R
Gay Days in Orlando
May 28 – June 3
Theme park days
Thursday: Animal Kingdom
Friday: Hollywood Studios
Saturday: Walt Disney World
Gay Days Orlando
www.gaydays.com | Daily pool parties
Tuesday: Kickoff party
Wednesday: Pool parties, DJs
Thursday: Taste of Gay Days
Friday: Red Dress Party with the Orlando Sisters
Saturday: Comedy with Judy Tenuta, Pool Party w/ ChiChi LaRue
Sunday: Pool parties
Friday: Deborah Cox
Saturday: Belinda Carlisle
Sunday: Kat DeLuna and Erasure’s Andy Bell
Girls in Wonderland
Thursday: Traffic Jam kickoff party
Friday: Wet Pool Party: DJs Lisa Pittman, Pat Pat Climax at Bongos
Saturday: Wet Pool Party: Drum from “Real L Word”, Fortune Feimster, Boogie Wonderland w/ Spikey Dikey, Bev McClellan
Sunday: Pool party, Indie Rock with Bev McClellan
One Mighty Weekend
REUNION POOL PARTIES, BUENA VISTA PALACE
Friday: DJs Mike Cruz, Power Infiniti
Saturday: DJs Roland Belmares, Eddie Martinez
Sunday: DJs Phil B, Dani Toro
MAGIC JOURNEYS AT ARABIAN NIGHTS
Friday: DJ Danny Tenaglia
Saturday: DJs Gustavo Scorpio and Joe Gauthreaux
One Magical Weekend
Friday: Riptide at Typhoon Lagoon w/ DJ Manny Lehman
Saturday: WE party, Epcot World Showplace with DJs Twisted Dee, Manuel de Diego
Sunday: Retro-T at Epcot
Top photo: LGBT attendees wear red for Gay Days at Walt Disney World, which takes place June 1 this year. (Photo by Jericl Cat / CC 2.0)