the judy garland club

What Gaga means to Orlando

Orlando is the carnival where kids run away to. Its theme parks–Universal, Sea World, and Disney–provide young people with employment opportunities but, more so, with venues through which they can embrace their otherness–the quirks and traits that make them different. Whether they’re escorting princesses, dolphins, or wizards, these places allow people who feel like “outcasts” to embrace their interests, fantasies, and passions free of judgement.

Disney, in particular, is the more obvious example, as the Magic Kingdom and its surrounding parks function as utopian communities free of judgement, danger, prejudice, pain, and sadness. It is, essentially, the ultimate carnival to run away to.

Orlando’s various parks draw in thousands of LGBT people, both as visitors and workers. “Gay days” at the parks have become part of Orlando’s LGBT culture and local traditions. There are hundreds of academic pieces written about the relationship between theme parks and the gay community. You may research further on your own time, but a general consensus connects the bond to a feeling of freedom and safety that these places offer to LGBT people, making the Magic Kingdom the perfect home for the outcast.

Orlando, the city, is an extension of this. The city is situated in central Florida, sandwiched between the rural north and urban south. They say that in Florida “the more north you go, the more south you get.” Therefore, Orlando provides a happy medium, an oasis for individuals escaping country conservatism in the north and country-club conservatism in the south.

It has always appealed to the other and the outsider–the outcasts, the kids who were different, the kids who were referred to as “freaks”–the kids who watched “Cinderella” and “Sleeping Beauty” instead of watching football–the kids who liked to read and find their own fantasies in the pages of a book, within the walls of Hogwarts. It’s for this reason that Gaga is an important pillar in the Orlando gay community.

Like Orlando, she represents openness and acceptance. A portrait of her hangs next to Cher, Judy Garland, and other gay icons inside Orlando’s other notable gay club, Parliament House. There’s a reason why she’s the only contemporary star in this lineup.

She has always been important to the Orlando gay scene. Her freedom of expression, creativity, imagination, and theatricality mirror the same qualities valued by the parade dancers, the ride operators, and the other “carnies”–those who found themselves by finding Orlando.

This is why Gaga is a fitting choice to deliver a speech at a memorial for the Pulse victims. Not only was her music a constant standard at Pulse, her expressive qualities resonate with the community as a whole.

Lady Gaga is Orlando. Lady Gaga is the carnival we escape to.