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WHERE THE GIRLS ARE 


It used to be all about the men. Gay Days was marketed toward them, and attended almost exclusively by them; in the 1990s, about 90 percent of the Gay Days crowd was male. It wasn't hard to figure out why. Advertisements, especially in magazines geared toward men, such as Instinct, sold sweaty circuit parties and shirtless bartenders and strippers. An influx of circuit promoters meant the event stayed male for a while.

Not so much anymore. Today, 17 years later, the gender gap is closing. Focused marketing and inclusive advertising has brought in the women, who last year accounted for 40 percent of the 135,000 attendees. While still not on par with their male counterparts, women have found a home at the event.

"For the longest time, big evening circuit promoters always marketed toward men," says Chris Alexander-Manley, vice president of GayDays.com. "Probably that circuit aspect built that image as a male event."

They brought in promoters like Girls in Wonderland to organize events. Girls in Wonderland, one of the promoters under the Girls at Gay Days umbrella, held its first event seven years ago and drew 800 women. Last year the group attracted some 7,000 women.

"We're always looking for more women's crews, and we're actively pursuing the female community to let them know what's available," Alexander-Manley says. "It's getting out there."

Instead of a handful of locals, not unusual during the 1990s, women are traveling from out of state to attend.

"I feel like the scene has changed since the time of the circuit boys. Now there's so much to choose from," says Girls in Wonderland co-promoter Yesi Leon.

To boost the number of women at Gay Days, promoters had to deal with an economic reality: Women have less buying power. A lesbian couple may not be able to afford the same vacation her male counterparts can.

"It's a shame to say women earn 80 cents for every $1 a man makes," Alexander-Manley says. "But economics always play into a vacation."

So getting women to the events required a different approach — namely lower prices. Many of the men's events are costly, such as a $50 club night. None of the women's events cost more than $31. And many, like the women's pool parties, are $10. There's a free expo. Even women's hotel-room package deals are cheaper.

More women are coming, says Leon, noting that the lower pricing is working.

"I think it's because (the events) are priced correctly. We want them to come out," she says. "These are prices that women can afford."

A higher percentage of women "nest," Leon notes. But the options are there, unlike the past.

"It definitely feels equal," says Leon. "We are now where the boys were when they started."

dsheffield@orlandoweekly.com

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