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An LA group pulled its float out of the 2024 Rose Parade. Mickey Mouse is partly to blame

A longtime float participant, one that has pushed thematic boundaries, will be missing from the 2024 Rose Parade.

After a decade of involvement, bringing compelling advocacy themes to a world stage, Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation will not participate in the New Year’s Day tradition.

The nonprofit — the largest provider of HIV/AIDS medical care in the world, according to its website — pulled its entry from the parade sometime after the Thanksgiving holiday, according to Ged Kenslea, AHF spokesperson.

AHF and its float builder/designers at Fiesta Parade Floats were just not able to synchronize to deliver a design, Kenslea said in a Thursday, Dec. 7 phone interview.

“It’s a different version of writer’s block,” Kenslea said, in trying to incapsulate what happened. “It’s a float version of writer’s block.”

It’s important for the nonprofit, said Kenslea, to live up to its reputation for thought-provoking messages surrounding such issues as healthcare, homelessness, gay rights and anti-violence.

“Time just got away from us,” Kenslea said. “We did not want to put a float in the parade that didn’t meet our standards.”

But how does time get away when you’ve had an entire year to prepare?

Well, that’s a complex tale involving AHF’s 11-year Rose Parade history, a founder’s fascination with an early rendition of Mickey Mouse and the Tournament of Roses unwritten “only one” rule.

AHF’s first entry onto the Rose Parade scene was in 2012 when they fashioned a tribute to Elizabeth Taylor who championed HIV and AIDS programs starting in the 1980s.

Then, in 2014, AHF caused a stir when Danny LeClair and Aubrey Loots, a gay couple, were married atop a two-tiered wedding cake float.

Newly married gay couple, Aubrey Loots, right, and Danny LeClair hold hands after getting married atop the AIDS Healthcare Foundation float at in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. Minister Alfreda Lanoix, left, performed the ceremony. (File photo by Eugene Garcia, Orange County Register)
Newly married gay couple, Aubrey Loots, right, and Danny LeClair hold hands after getting married atop the AIDS Healthcare Foundation float at in the 2014 Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena. Minister Alfreda Lanoix, left, performed the ceremony. (File photo by Eugene Garcia, Orange County Register)

That public, historic wedding almost didn’t happen, said Kenslea, until Farmer’s Insurance canceled its same-sex wedding plans and AHF was given the green light.

The release of doves, in fact, after LeClair and Loots tied the knot, was also a lucky coincidence. AHF was told, no, they couldn’t release doves as another float was doing that. The float happened to be directly behind AHF’s, so to television audiences, it looked as if the doves were theirs.

In 2017, the nonprofit’s float paid tribute to the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting with 49 bright white stars on a field of red roses, with a dove caught in mid-flight.

In 2018, the theme was social justice and paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 2020 and again in 2023, AHF made statements about homelessness. In 2021, after the COVID-19 pandemic pause, they implored leaders to “Vaccinate Our World” with a Jetson’s theme — a mask-wearing George Jetson in his spaceship next to a needle-wielding Rosey the Robot.

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was a victim of the Charlottesville white supremascit ralley rides on the Aids Healthcare Foundation float during the 2018 Rose Parade in Pasadena on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (Photo by Keith Durflinger, Pasadena Star News/SCNG)
Keith Durflinger, Pasadena Star News/SCNG

Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, who was a victim of the Charlottesville white supremascit ralley rides on the Aids Healthcare Foundation float during the 2018 Rose Parade in Pasadena on Monday, Jan. 1, 2018. (Photo by Keith Durflinger, Pasadena Star News/SCNG)

With those inspirational themes setting a high bar, AHF went to work on conceptualizing the 2024 float theme.

Michael Weinstein, AHF president, had always been intrigued with Steamboat Willie, Disney’s first incarnation of Mickey Mouse, Kenslea explained.

How cool would it be to unveil a giant Steamboat Willie during AHF’s 5.5-mile ride down Colorado Boulevard on the day the cartoon character comes out of copyright protection after 95 years? The Mickey Mouse progenitor is a more rat-like, sinister-seeming rodent from 1928, who over the years, Disney tweaked to become rounder, cuter and friendlier.

AHF wanted to be the first to use Steamboat Willie and to capitalize on potential lead-up media coverage of the beloved, universally recognized character.

“Steamboat/Mickey is as an American institution as the parade itself,” Kenslea said.

But, said Kenslea, how do you associate Steamboat Willie with AHF’s messaging?

The team worked for about eight months trying to tie Willie to homelessness or healthcare. Tim Estes, president of Fiesta Parade Floats, considered building Willie behind a drape, so as not to cross any potential lines of infringement. Disney is fierce in its protection of it copyright and its trademarks.

The messaging challenge was so big, said Kenslea, that AHF and Fiesta never even got to any potential copyright or trademark infringement issue. They were just stuck on reconciling the design elements.

So, in early September, AHF scraped Steamboat Willie and transitioned to a “Seeking Harmony through ‘We the People’” theme that would easily tie into the organization’s July 2023 march of the same name decrying discrimination and hate.

But that proved to be a difficult needle to thread, Kenslea said, especially as an obvious element for such a float — a large, flowing floral rendering of the U.S. Constitution — was already being used by Elks U.S.A. in their “Chimes of Liberty/Protecting Our Future” float.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation "Hope for the Homeless" float during the 131st Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA., on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation “Hope for the Homeless” float during the 131st Rose Parade in Pasadena, CA., on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

And that’s where the rule Kenslea calls the “only one” rule comes in. For the nearly 90 entries in the Rose Parade, there can be only one of something. One constitution. One wedding. One release of doves.

There’s no official “one only” rule, said Candy Carlson, Tournament of Roses spokesperson. But, as much variety as possible is encouraged.

“We discourage float participants from incorporating an element that is already being showcased,” Carlson said.

Throughout the year, several committees work with parade participants to “ensure that the most visual and entertaining parade is presented,” Carlson added.

Kenslea said AHF has no hard feelings toward either Fiesta, who has been “rock solid”, said Kenslea, or the Tournament about missing the Rose Parade this year.

“We are a less traditional entrant and the Tournament has always stood by us,” Kenslea said.

It’s giving the AHF team more time to ideate for 2025 Rose Parade.

“AHF’s presence in parade is a moment of pride for our staff,” Kenslea said. “It’s bittersweet for us, but we look forward to returning next year.”


Source: Orange County Register

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