Walt Disney World Saved The Life of a 14-Year-Old Gay Boy

In an article for The Daily Beast, singer Bill McKinley wrote about how, at 14-years-old, he “ran away” to Walt Disney World and the experience saved his life.

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McKinley first heard about Walt Disney World on Friday, October 29, 1971, at 8:00 p.m., in Grand Rapids, Ohio. He remembers every detail of watching “Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” on NBC in the library of Nazareth Hall Military Academy at 11-years-old.

McKinley watched Glen “Rhinestone Cowboy” Campbell arrive at the grand opening of Walt Disney World. As a young gay boy with a difficult home life sent away to a Catholic military school, the special was life-changing for McKinley.

“Disney World?” he wrote. “There was something beyond Disneyland?? How could I not have heard of this entirely new magical destination? I was so transfixed, I don’t think I even hazarded a breath. Mind. Blown.”

McKinley decided he would be taking a solo trip to Walt Disney World. He wrote, “Maybe it was divine inspiration. Maybe some queer angel looked down and knew this lonely, misunderstood gay boy needed a magical life-preserver to cling to during the oncoming storms of adolescence, bullying, and conversion therapy. All I know is I started acting like it was the most natural thing in the world for an 11-year-old boy to go around telling everyone he could about his upcoming solo trip to Disney World, reality be damned.”

For three years, McKinley saved money, planned, and researched. He never asked his parents for permission to do the trip.

“I’d made my plans perfectly clear for almost 3 years and worked like crazy to make them happen, and they never said I couldn’t go.”

His parents dropped him off at the airport in Indianapolis on Monday, September 2, 1974. He arrived in Orlando and spent five days at Walt Disney World, all by himself, at 14-years-old.

“I recall every single moment like it was yesterday,” McKinley wrote. “I went wherever I wanted to go and did whatever I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it. I was free.”

McKinley even made life-long friends in 18-year-old Cast Member Jean and her boyfriend, Dave, who he met at The Haunted Mansion.

“They say all dreams come to an end,” he said. “They lie.”

McKinley went on to not only visit Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort countless times, but sneak into the Disney Studios, attend the grand re-opening of Tomorrowland at Disneyland in 1998, attend the grand opening of Disney/MGM Studios in 1989, sing in “Pocahontas” and “Mulan,” and record Marvin Hamlisch and Howard Ashman’s “Disneyland” for his first CD.

Read McKinely’s full story on The Daily Beast.

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4 thoughts on “Walt Disney World Saved The Life of a 14-Year-Old Gay Boy”

  1. Thank you for sharing my story!
    Thanks for everything you all do at WDWNT—I’m a big fan, and fantasize about being a reporter someday (as well as the first permanent worldwide Disney Ambassador) ❤️
    Best always, Bill

    Reply
  2. Great story Bill ! I’m a Disney fan too since the 70’s and though some things have changed (good and bad ) we still love it. Actually we were on our way to Orlando to go to the wine & food festival when Ian showed up, making us have to U-turn and go home. Oh well!

    Reply

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