If you ask people to give one-word adjectives that describe Walt Disney World, you might hear words such as, “magical,” “expensive,” “fun,” “crowded” and “creative.”
From the very beginning, it’s been that creativity that’s given The Walt Disney Company its edge. They released the world’s first full-length animated feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, in 1938. They opened Disneyland, the world’s first theme park, which had rides and attractions like no typical amusement park, in 1955. The park, and the other Disney parks around the world that followed, lent themselves to all kinds of creative ideas. You know, stuff like using boats (like in the It’s A Small World attraction), Omnimovers (ride vehicles gliding along on a continuously moving track, like in The Haunted Mansion) and audio-animatronics (all three of these were introduced at the 1964-1965 World’s Fair) in attractions, guests being completely immersed in a park’s theming (such as Main Street U.S.A., Fantasyland and Tomorrowland), the concept of destination resorts, the development of Celebration, FL (the not-so-perfect town that Disney built) built next door to WDW, etc.
Walt Disney was a creative man, as were and are the thousands of people who have worked for the company named after him – particularly their Imagineers (people who devise and implement new or highly imaginative concepts or technology) and designers. Not surprisingly, many of those people identify, identified, or probably would have publicly identified, if it was more accepted in that day and age, as LGBTQ+.
Which brings us to what was first referred to me as, and what I still call, the gayest artwork at Walt Disney World. 😉
Which reminds me…before we go any further, heads up that both Joe and I are strong allies of the LGBTQ+ community. We’ve donated money to their causes, walked in Pride parades, worked at Pride events, gone to LGBTQ-related demonstrations, rallies and candlelight vigils, you name it. I couldn’t even tell you what Chick-fil-A tastes like anymore, it’s been so long since I’ve eaten there (but if the company made substantial donations to LGBTQ-centric groups to make up for what they’ve done in the past, I’d consider it). Some of my best friends really ARE gay. So before anyone says anything about that “the gayest artwork at WDW” moniker, heads up that (A) the name was introduced to me by two gay guys and (B) I spoke to over two dozen of my LGBTQ+ friends and family of all ages, in 3 different countries – from a 15-year-old gender fluid lesbian to a handful of adult trans, lesbian and bisexual people I know, to an entire gaggle of “young and middle aged gays” (because OMG, do I know a lot of those, LOL!), to make sure using that term wouldn’t be offensive, because the last thing I’d want to do is hurt the feelings of anyone in the LGBTQ+ community.
So yeah…back to “the gayest artwork at WDW.” It’s in, of all places, a men’s room.
Some background information: The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, located at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground, launched in 1974. It was created during the heyday of dinner theaters and although the show and costumes have evolved through the years, it’s still essentially the same corny, hand-clappin’, foot-stompin’, sing-along type of performance it’s always been. The food has also been roughly the same, too – salad, fresh baked corn bread (with sugar; sorry not sorry to all you southerners out there), fried chicken, BBQ ribs, seasonal vegetables, mashed potatoes, all the beer, wine or sangria you care to drink, and Straw! Berry! Short! Cake! (see the show; that last part’ll make more sense). It’s not a Tony winning production and it doesn’t have any Michelin stars, but hey, it’s a fun night. 😉
PC: The Walt Disney Company
Anyway, somewhere in the mid-2000s, a bunch of us friends went to the Hoop. The way Fort Wilderness is set up, you have to take one of Disney’s buses from the resort’s the parking lot to Pioneer Hall, which is where “the Hoop” show is. The show was over and we were going to have to wait a good 15-20 minutes before the next bus would come to bring us back to where our cars were. So we decided to use the rest rooms, which were just to the left of the theater/restaurant, while we were waiting.
Part of our group were our friends Rob and Scott, who were a couple. They hadn’t lived in Florida for a very long time by that point – maybe just two or three years. And I don’t think they had ever gone to see the Hoop. Or if they had, maybe they didn’t use the rest room.
So they come out of the men’s room, laughing like crazy, and Rob comes up to me and says, “OMG, you gotta come seen what’s in there!”
Now, I promise you that I’m not one to go into men’s rooms on a regular basis. But Rob and Scott said I HAD to come see whatever it was, while they were still laughing their butts off. No one else was in the men’s room (I told them to double check), so off I went.
The men’s room was very much like the ladies’ room, which I had visited plenty of times before – the wall and floor tiles had kind of an Old West color palette, with a lot of brick red, tan, beige, and just a bit of turquoise. A “chair rail” bit of tile goes all the way around the rest room – it has a rope pattern on it, to add to the Western feel. I noticed it didn’t have the typical quirk of many Disney rest rooms, but that would make sense, since it was at a resort, not a park.
There were a few photos in the tile work, all “Western” themed…one was a stage coach, another was some cowboys on their horses, etc.
And there, in all its glory, was what Rob and Scott referred to as “the gayest artwork at Disney World”:
Yep, a bunch of well-built cowboys, several posing with their butts facing out, and one with his shirt pulled halfway up his chest.
The funny thing is, Joe, as well as other straight men we know, have been in that bathroom more than once, saw the picture, and didn’t think much of it. Maybe an odd choice of decoration in a bathroom, but no big deal. Leave it to the two gay guys to have a whole different interpretation of the art. 😉
Now, you’d think, with a picture like that, the artist would HAVE to have been gay, right? Turns out, apparently not.
It’s hard to see in the photo above, but on the bottom right-hand tile, the artwork is signed by one Oleg Stavrowsky. I did some Googling and discovered that Mr. Stavrowsky was born in New York City (Harlem, to be exact), to immigrant parents. He didn’t become interested in art until several years after he was discharged from the army (he had been drafted during WW2) and he didn’t start painting Western scenes (he became very well known for them) until he was in his 40s. Stavrowsky passed away in May of 2000, still painting Western motifs until the very end. The 93-year-old was predeceased by his wife, Georgia Carol, and he left behind 8 children, 14 grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren. So either he identified as straight or was from a time when one’s closet door was to remain firmly closed, and that’s what he did.
Although Oleg Stavrowsky is gone, his artwork is still for sale at olegart.com. If you check out that website, you’ll see a painting that looks very similar to the one in the Hoop’s men’s room. It’s called The Heartbreak of Bosque County Chiggers. So I guess maybe those beefy cowboys weren’t actually posing after all…they were just scratching bug bites!
(Quick note here: a small handful of those “young and middle aged gay men” that I know, who admittedly already knew the history of the photo in question, saw the picture and said to me, “Ew, that picture? Of the straight cowboys scratching bug bites? That is SO not ‘gay’.” Yet others thought it unquestionably fit into the homoerotic category. Go figure. And that, my friends, is why this blog is called Your Mileage May Vary. But I digress…)
True history of the piece notwithstanding, how does such a so-called “gay” piece of art from a straight artist wind up in the men’s room of a Disney dinner show?
Welllll…Disney has admittedly always been very careful about its reputation. So although it was an open-minded company for decades, it didn’t really start to be publicly accepting of those in the LGBTQ+ community until somewhere around the early-mid 1990s. That was around the time the annual “not officially sanctioned by Disney but certainly enjoyed by many of its employees and those who pay attention to the park’s cash flow” Gay Days event started happening at WDW (y’all, they are SO MUCH FUN! Here’s the outline of some of our experiences at Gay Days at WDW). It’s also when the company began extending health benefits to “domestic partners” (although they admittedly did it late, in comparison to other Hollywood studios).
By the 2000s, much of the cishet general public in the U.S. was evolving from homophobia and discomfort with lifestyles different from their own, to tolerance and (YAAASSS!) acceptance of those in the LGBTQ+ community. Disney, in turn, made their open-mindedness more known, as well. They started selling more “rainbow” merchandise for Gay Days and Gay Pride in general. Disney Fairy Tale Weddings, the wedding department of the company, began to allow commitment ceremonies of same sex couples in 2007 (the aforementioned Rob and Scott had one in 2008 – it was fabulous!). Actual weddings for same sex couples became an option at Disney parks in the U.S. when gay marriage was legalized in 2016. LGBTQ+ characters have been added to Disney-owned TV and movie properties, some quietly, some more blatantly so, since around 2013 (The Atlantic suggests it had been quietly happening for decades before that). The Disneyland Paris Pride Party has been a Disney-sponsored event since 2019. And since 2021, Disney has adopted “gender inclusive” hair, fingernail, jewelry and dress as part of “The Disney Look.”
As an ally, I find all of that openness to be wonderful. But remember that all those creative people have been working at Disney for a whole lot longer than since the 1990s. And those gay designers who decorated the parks since the 50s and beyond? Of course they were going to “make their mark” here and there, where straight and cisgender John and Jane Q. Public won’t notice a thing, but perhaps their LGBTQ+ brethren would. SO…things like “the gayest artwork at WDW” have been around since at least the mid-1970s. By the way, the bathroom art at the Hoop has been complemented by the artwork of the hunky, well-muscled, bare-chested construction worker at Epcot’s American Adventure Pavilion since 1982 (that work was done by the late Disney scenic artist Clem Hall – also apparently a straight guy. Who woulda thunk?).
Meanwhile, if you thought the “Cowboys Backside” picture wasn’t popular, you’d be wrong. It’s kind of legendary, in a #IYKYK sort of way. I mean, there’s this guy:
And this happy little fact…
Y’see, the Hoop Dee Do has been closed since the pandemic. That means all those performers, servers, backstage crew, kitchen staff, etc. have been out of work, or had to find something else. Well, Disney recently announced that the Hoop is finally reopening on June 23rd. Hooray!
Joe and I know a lot of people who work in Entertainment at Walt Disney World, include several who worked at the Hoop before COVID. They’re apparently back in rehearsals now, getting ready to start the show again, because one of them posted this heartwarming thing on Facebook the other day:
It got close to 120 “likes” the first day it was posted. 😉
So there you go…the next time you go into the men’s room next to the Hoop Dee Do Revue, take a better look at that artwork, if you’ve never noticed it before. 😉
Oh, and to all of our LGBTQ+ friends, Happy Pride Month! 🙂
MANY thanks to (deep breath): Carly, Cat, Chris, Dan, Eric, Erin, Gary, Jessica, John, John, Josh, Kerri, Kevin, Lauren, Madison, Margaret, Mark, Matt, Monkey, Natale, Rob, Rob, Sean, Sean, Sofia, Stephan, Tony, Tyler and Waldy. Different people, different reasons. You each know why.
Love and miss you, Rob and Scott. ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜
Feature Photo: The Walt Disney Company
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