George Kalogridis started as a busboy at Walt Disney World and will now become the theme park's fifth president, South Florida Gay News reports. A classic American success story.
Oh, and he's openly gay. What will this mean for the park and for the prospect of greater representation of LGBT families within the Disney empire?
The Orlando Sentinel also has a long profile of Kalogridis, showcasing his many accomplishments within the company and noting that "He and his partner of 12 years, Andy Hardy, just paid a deposit to build a home in Golden Oak, the luxury subdivision that Disney World is developing on the northeastern corner of its vast property." His official biography on the Disneyland Web site does not mention his partner, but notes that he is on the board of directors of Out & Equal (the organization dedicated to LGBT workplace equality).
Disney has given off a gay vibe for quite some time, as I observed when my family and I took a trip there a few years ago. Of course, Disney has yet to feature any clearly LGBT characters in its films or television programming - but it recently took a very tentative step in that direction when the Disney Channel ran a video featuring a teen with two moms as part of a social outreach campaign.
Do I think Kalogridis' appointment is going to help? Perhaps. He could build on the existing unofficial "Gay Days" at the park and do a full-on outreach campaign to LGBT families. He could convey to Disney's film producers just how many LGBT families (and our allies) visit the parks each year, and how much it would mean for inclusion and acceptance to have an LGBT character or family in a Disney film.
Time will tell. But the appointment of an openly gay man to head the flagship theme park epitomizing family entertainment in this country (if not the world) is significant in and of itself.
Disney, more than any other single entity, I believe, could lead the way to visibility and inclusion of LGBT characters in children's media. That doesn't mean sex - and I shouldn't even have to say that - just LGBT parents and/or children living their lives and having the kinds of adventures that other Disney characters have.
The company itself is as LGBT-friendly as they come, scoring a perfect 100 on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index, and featuring openly lesbian and gay celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John, and chef Cat Cora in their films and parks. Disney-owned ABC airs Modern Family, the Emmy-winning sitcom featuring gay dads.
Disney is already behind the curve, though, as Universal Pictures' Paranorman has the distinction of being the first mainstream children's animated film to include a gay character.
Disney animator Andreas Deja, a 30-year veteran of the company, told Australia's News.com.au in July 2011 that he could foresee same-sex parents in a future Disney film. "I think once they (Disney chiefs) find the right kind of story with that kind of concept, they will do it," he said.
Given that I'm hard-pressed to think of a classic Disney film that doesn't have a main character who is an orphan, has only one parent, or has a step-parent, there's no reason they shouldn't add some additional "non-traditional" families to the mix. It's a small world, after all. Let's be inclusive of everyone in it.