Often unspoken but seldom unheard of, Orlando's overall gayness is a phenomenon of global importance. How gay is it?

A gander across the pink triangle of the I-4 corridor reveals an eye-rattling amount of evidence. Sure, there are the old standbys of Walt Disney World, the Parliament House and the so-called ViMi district, but so many more visible components involve real estate, retail and creativity. Gay timeshares? Got 'em. Failed lesbian basketball team? That, too.

What's most striking about our town's fey leanings, though, comes in the form of the undercurrent; the sublime acceptance of those who choose to like those who are of the same gender as themselves. Unlike the Castro district in San Francisco or Christopher Street in New York City, gayness here is not necessarily about overt canoodling. Orlando may be a gay utopia where not only do gay guys jack off in bathhouses and lesbians serve on the city commission, but men also regularly shop together for tilapia while women throw block parties at their duplexes. Everywhere you look: gay, gay, gay.

How gay is Orlando? So gay that we made a list of some of the obvious as well as the underground.

1. Gay gas station

No way really to confirm this one, but by all appearances, the Chevron station at the corner of Ferncreek Avenue and Colonial Drive may be sticking its combustible nozzle in the forbidden hole. There, flying beside Old Glory and sundry fabric pastiches of national pride, gaily waves a rainbow flag. Whether it's just clever street-side marketing or an in-your-face political statement, it still means that we have a gay gas station, Mary. Pump like there's no tomorrow!

2. Club Orlando

While the spit-shined gay sex ethic may seem to have gone the way of the '70s (and/or Olivia Newton-John's "Physical,") there are still hideaways that cater to the wanton desires of the anonymous with overnight bags. Billed as a men's club with athletic tendencies, most of the working out going on at Club Orlando is of the lubricated variety. Rentable changing rooms line a pacing path of men with towels, and towels can be very convenient for houses with baths in them.

3. The Parliament House

If Orlando had a giant gay map, the Parliament House would be the shining pink star in the middle, reading "You must be here" in sequined cursive. For decades, the resort that drinks like a bar has been a staple in the outbound gay diet. In addition to its historic sport of "balcony bingo" (you do the math) and its free-flowing libations, P-House offers a slew of diversions for those of the same-sex persuasion: shows, themes, games, a pool. If you haven't been to the Parliament House, then you're obviously not gay.

4. Gay Publix

Unintentionally, the downtown Publix at the corner of Shine Avenue and Colonial Drive has earned a quietly giggled reputation as a queer meat market, though there's nothing in the aisles of loaves, pills and talcum that would have it be so. To the best of our knowledge, the bathrooms remain kid-friendly, but somehow — given, perhaps, the cobblestone queers of the downtown real estate boom — it is very, very gay. Cute, rich gay, too. Meat optional.

5. Orlando Gay Chorus

The odds of growing up to be gay when you were raised as a chorus kid are pretty good. Gay people sing. But what to do with all of that flamboyant knowledge of vibrato, tremolo, a cappella and triplets? Every good boy does fine? Maybe. But every gay (or gay-friendly) boy or girl is welcome to join the gay chorus for rehearsals, concerts and activities, and Orlando's is a big, loud one.

6. Disney

The root of all things gay in Orlando — mostly because of that indecipherable attraction of the homosexual to things with big ears — Disney is the fantastic fantasia of magical days and castles only Cinderella could live in. Behind the scenes, Disney employs a fair portion of gay Orlando, cramming them into situations that presumably realize their dreams. Situations with fur on them. Or big ears.

7. Sawmill

It may be a bit of a drive, but if you take your camp literally — as in camping — Sawmill in Dade City is the gay and lesbian campground of your redneck dreams. Nature trails, a splash bar and novelty stores with leather goods pepper the outdoor oasis — as do obligatory filling stations (with country dancing, even). But nothing is as exciting than the clothing-optional pool. Because gay people don't need swimwear.

8. Gay ballroom dancers

Although in the waning phase of its network-fueled rebirth, ballroom dancing has been a gay fixation since ornamented grandmothers made a beeline for early-bird sessions at their local Arthur Murray studio. Stuart Nichols and Richard Lamberty carry the formal torch into global competition this summer, even garnering a cover story `"Who leads?" March 30` in these pages months ago. Orlando isn't all circuit queens, you know.

9. Gay Road

Most cities have a Gay Road, and children living on that street are ridiculed unto suicide. At Winter Park's Gay Road, at an intersection across from Winter Park Village, somebody made the obvious even more clear. "Press butt to cross Gay" reads a sign beneath the walk signal, the "on" ceremoniously excised from the "butt." Indeed.

10. Mannequins

Taking its cue from the Andrew McCarthy film farce of the '80s, Mannequins does the unthinkable job of making Disney's Pleasure Island gayer than Pinocchio's Pleasure Island. A rotating dance floor and the passport-holding fanny packs of those on holiday only add to the effect. But the ability to pretend that you're a lifeless, posed Kim Cattrall — and to have that behavior be appropriate — is way better.

11. Phil Rampy

Best known for his celebrated coke-baggie lap toss of 2000, which threw his lucrative real estate future into the passenger seat, Phil Rampy remains a big development deal in Orlando regardless. So what's not to like about a successful gay man who likes to have fun? Check out www.philrampy.com, a website devoted to complaining about his questionable landlordship. Shocking!

12. Michael Wanzie

A bawdy foot-fetishist with an unstoppable entrepreneurial spirit, Michael Wanzie makes his own rules. Whether stirring up theatrical drama (with a smirk) or representing homosexuality via crossover public appearances and his movie reviews on Real Radio (104.1 FM), Wanzie always gets the last laugh. As gay people do.

13. Ritzy Rags

While not necessarily a gay entity — they do feature the needs of cancer survivors on their website — Ritzy Rags is the greatest drag queen wiggery in town. Boas and gowns abound, as do rather large women's shoes. While the rest of the gay ViMi block seems to be diminishing, Ritzy Rags doesn't look like it's going anywhere. Anywhere but out, that is.

14. Patty Sheehan

There's a lesbian in city hall, and everybody knows it. Far from being a starched power suit drowning in the stench of polemical rhetoric, Sheehan is a regular mouthy gal, more likely to throw one back at the Peacock Room than to count her pearls over a $1,000 contribution dinner plate. Orlando is better for her. And gayer.

15. Sam Singhaus

With arched eyebrows that smokily suggest, "Christina, bring me the ax," and a wardrobe to make Marilyn Monroe feel insecure, Miss Sammy is way more than a warbling "I Will Survive" sort of guy-as-girl. Her on-call ability to break the ice at even the most crossed-over heterosexual affairs, and to do so in a yellow onesie, makes her a local treasure. And Miss Sammy has the smarts to go with those gams, too.

16. Chris Alexander-Manley

Every Friday at noon, Alexander-Manley plays the role of the outspoken speaker of the big gay house on his WPRK (91.5 FM) radio show, Gay Orlando Talk. When not gabbing, he works tirelessly behind the scenes to make Gay Days and everything homosexual in Orlando go off without a hitch. His hyphenated married last name includes "Manley," too, which has to count for something. Something very gay.

17. Full Moon Saloon

Not all things gay in Orlando involve a pass-sheet from the real estate exam safety-pinned to the back of a distressed linen shirt. Some people like extra weight, back hair and jean shorts. Some people are comfortable drinking well liquor beneath the menacing eyes of taxidermied wildlife. Some people are bears. Sexy!

18. Watermark

Ever wonder what Eartha Kitt thinks about gay people? Odds are, Watermark will tell you.

19. Orlando Miracle

The women's NBA team is no longer part of gay Orlando. Sniffle. But lesbians with balls remain a novel concept forever.

20. The Gardens

As a high-end extension of the Parliament House's budget-oriented overnight hospitality, the recently opened Gardens may come off as a snooty thumb to the nose. But given that it's a time share — and not a cheap one — the glaring iniquity can be forgiven. Plus, it's the only time share within city limits, and it's gay! That's how gay Orlando is.

21. Gay Days

Internationally renowned as the summit for gay concerns that involve both excess and spending, Gay Days has grown into a behemoth, all-inclusive affair with a hefty, exclusive price tag. No gay stone is left unturned in this town the first week of June, and few bathroom stalls are left unoccupied by at least two people. Oddly, Gay Days represents everything gay about Orlando, but leaves most local queers counting their pennies at the velvet rope. How gay is Orlando? You can't even afford to know. Move along.



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