On September 13th, 1980 — 36 years ago today — Andrew Exler and Shawn Elliot were thrown out of Disneyland after they chose to dance together at Tomorrowland Terrace. Later the two young men (they were 19 and 17 respectively at the time) sued Disney for sexual discrimination and won. Their suit effectively ended Disney’s long-held ban on same-sex dancing that originated in in the 1950s.
In fact, the two men went to the park that night with the hopes of challenging that very policy. According to OC Weekly, the pair had heard about it from some of their lesbian friends who had been kicked out of the park previously. Additionally, contrary to popular belief, Exler and Elliot weren’t actually a couple — just good friends.
As they recalled to OC Weekly, when security approached them, they first told them to find girls to dance with. After they said that they didn’t know any, they were escorted backstage where they were asked about their motives. After this they were told they could return to the park but only if they agreed not to dance together. They refused and were then removed.
Immediately after leaving the park, they went to the LGBT support center they volunteered with to tell their friends about their experience. 10 days later they filed a suit in Orange County Superior Court. They were represented by a lawyer from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
Here’s a newspaper clip about the original suit:
And one from the ruling:
In the years that have followed the court decision, The Walt Disney Company’s views on homosexuality have changed significantly. While they are not officially sanctioned events, Gay Days at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland have been popular for many years. Additionally, following the tragic events at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Walt Disney World handed out rainbow-colored Mickey pins as guests left a fan-organized remembrance event.