Chicago, IL —
While Six Flags Great America, located less than an hour outside Chicago in Gurnee, Ill., has been supporting the Chicagoland LGBT community for a decade, this year's Out in the Park will be unlike any other. Tickets to the event, held on Sat., Sept. 8, grant access to the park all day long as well as to an exclusive private event from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. This exclusive after-hours party features dancing in Hometown Square and live DJ music piped throughout the whole park, which will be open -- rides and all -- solely for the LGBT community and their allies.
Out in the Park is under new management this year, with Michael Snell and Derrick Sorles, partners in both business and life, of Best Gay Cities taking over the event. It's also being sponsored by Vitaminwater and, for the first time, being held as a charity event, this year benefiting the Test Positive Awareness Network (TPAN).
"Our love of amusement parks began as young kids because we both came from Michigan -- he was in Flynn I was outside of Detroit and so the park that was closest to us was Cedar Point in Sandusky -- and that used to be our big summer vacation for both of us," Sorles told ChicagoPride.com. "So when we moved here in 2001 and saw that in fact there was some sort of Gay Days at Six Flags and it was only an hour away, we fell in love with the event."
Although there have been several official and nonofficial LGBT events held at Six Flags Great America over the years, this incarnation of Out in the Park descends from a decade of Gay Days sponsored by Gay Chicago Magazine
. The event was started by Stacy Bridges, who currently owns and publishes Grab Magazine
, when he was the General Manager of Gay Chicago.
"I did it on a Monday so bar staff could be part of it, because usually they're left out of all the fun stuff," Bridges told ChicagoPride.com. "On Market Days and Pride they all have to work, so I thought it would be something different and fun -- and there would be no lines."
Mostly through advertising in Gay Chicago and word of mouth, the first year, titled "Gay Chicago Gay Day at Six Flags," drew a couple thousand LGBT and allied attendees to the park. The event continued much the same in subsequent years, but was eventually moved to a Saturday, which allowed the participation of more people, but also put event-goers in longer lines and in a bigger crowd of the general, and occasionally homophobic, public. After Bridges left Gay Chicago, the magazine continued to produce the event for two years before it closed in September of last year.
With the event in limbo, Snell and Sorles of Best Gay Cities, a boutique brand offering blogs focused on gay travel, gay information and gay news, saw this opportunity to create something big for Chicago's LGBT community. The pair contacted Six Flags in May and asked for the park's blessing to put on an event only to hear that Six Flags was itching to do something for Chicago's LGBT community as well. One of the first changes made to Out in the Park was to make the event a benefit, with a portion of all of this year's ticket sales being donated to TPAN.
Snell and Sorles, who started Best Gay Cities as part of their quest to become social media mavens, are also changing the way Out in the Park is advertised in an effort to increase event attendance. In addition to advertising in the local gay publications -- Grab Magazine
, ChicagoPride.com, The L Stop and Boi Magazine
are all helping promote the event -- and at LGBT events like Market Days, the pair reached out to nearby cities and districts that traditionally make up much of the crowd at Six Flags Great America. The two personally visited Milwaukee, handing out cards, shaking hands and meeting bar-owners and patrons, and also sent packages to other areas of Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana and Iowa, focusing on gay bars and LGBT community centers.
"We've also gone in the city of Chicago to every college that is here and we've aligned ourselves with their LGBT organizations to make sure that college students all are aware of this," Sorles said. "It's a city-wide, state-wide event, but it's a great thing for younger kids under 21 to do because its not about drinking and you don't have to be 21 enter. You can be a part of the community -- and the fact that Six Flags was willing to make it private is huge."'
Tickets for the event, which can be purchased online for a discounted $35, gain attendees of Out in the Park access to Six Flags throughout the whole of the normal business day and arms them with a special wristband to attend the private party. When the park closes at 9 p.m., all those without a wristband will be pushed out, leaving only Out in the Park attendees.
Hurricane Harbor and the kiddie rides will be closed, but the entire rest of Six Flags, including all the rollercoasters, rides and the Midway, will be completely operational until 1 a.m. With the park's attendance averaging between 20,000 and 40,000 people a day, this private event expecting 4,000 to 5,000 means a unique chance to ride the rollercoasters of Six Flags with little to no waiting in line.
The private party also features Chicago DJs Matthew Harvat
and Phil DaBeatz spinning music simultaneously from the park's Hometown Square. Attendees can hang out in the Square, dancing and enjoying the two DJs working as a team spinning a variety of favorite tunes, old and new, that will be piped live throughout the entire park all night long. Six Flags is also offering a special discount on alcoholic beverages for the evening, even adding vodka drinks to the menu specifically to serve for Out in the Park.
"We had some people ask early on if it was going to be like Gay Days Universal Studios, which is really more of a dance party -- they have like four rides open and it's mostly men," Snell told ChicagoPride.com. "No! The whole park is open and we want it to be about everybody. We have the deaf community involved and we want the lesbian community involved and we want the black community involved. I think we've done a good job of reaching out to everyone. If you look on Facebook, everyone's coming -- it's like a rainbow."
Sorles and Snell have big plans for the future of Out in the Park as well. With more time next year to advertise and visit surrounding cities to drum up excitement around the event and a planned contest amongst Chicago college students to design next year's poster they hope to increase the turnout and grab corporate's attention.
"That is why we need everyone to come out and get a ticket and come to the event, because the faster that we're on corporate's radar, the more money we'll have to make Out in the Park even more fantastic," said Sorles, who envisions a possible fireworks show and a private party beginning at 6 or 7 p.m. for next year. "It's gonna take all of us to come together and try to make a statement to Six Flags that Chicago is serious about this event."
Discounted tickets for this year's Out it the Park are $35, including the cost of admission as well as parking, and are available for advanced purchase online at http://gaysixflagschicago.com
. Tickets will also be available at the gate on September 8, but these will cost $45 and not include the $20 cost for parking.
Best Gay Cities has also arranged for 10 Greyhound buses, each seating 50 people and bearing a theme such as Gaga or Madonna, to take people to and from the park, picking up riders at 1100 block of W. Montrose, one block west of Broadway by the cemetery in Uptown. The buses will feature complimentary swag bags and allow riders to bring small coolers containing food and alcoholic beverages along for the ride, but no glass containers are permitted.
The first round of buses leave Uptown at 3 p.m. and cost $22 and the second depart at 6 p.m. for $20. All buses will leave Six Flags at 1 a.m. and riders will depart on the same bus they arrived on. Tickets for buses can be purchased by visiting the event's website, where you can also find directions to Six Flags Great America and learn more about Out in the Park.