Following backlash from fans and employees, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has decided to meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the recent passing of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The controversial bill limits teachers from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity before third grade. To the dismay of company staffers, Disney didn’t denounce the bill in support of the LGBTQ community. It was also revealed that Disney provided financial support to some of the bill’s backers in the Florida legislature, totaling close to $200,000.
Controversy mounted since the bill’s passing in the House on Feb. 24, with Disney not releasing an official statement until Wednesday’s annual shareholder meeting on March 9.
“While we have been strong supporters of the [LGBTQ+] community for decades, I understand that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek stated. “We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
He announced that Disney pledged to donate $5 million to organizations that support protecting LGBTQ+ rights, including the Human Rights Campaign. He also stated that he would be meeting with Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the legislation, which recently passed in the state’s senate, as well.
“We were hopeful that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers could lead to a better outcome. Ultimately, we were unsuccessful,” he explained. “I called Gov. DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be unfairly used to target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families. The governor heard our concerns, and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address them.”
He also added that DeSantis “committed to me that he wanted to make sure that this law could not be weaponized by any individuals to target [LGBTQ+] kids and [their] families.”
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, weaponized even in its name, allows for parents to sue school districts that they believe are in violation. Since the Florida state senate passed the legislation on Tuesday, many other states have considered similar bills.
Responding to angry employees, Disney released a memo to current staff that again stressed their interest to “stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.”
“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” Disney CEO Chapek said in defense of company actions. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change.”
Following Chapek’s statements, The Animation Guild condemned the House of Mouse’s response (and lack thereof until Wednesday).
Accusing Disney of standing silent “while this scurrilous piece of homophobic legislation passes,” the Animation Guild said that not releasing a statement to express widespread disapproval of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was a “momentous misstep.”
“It is disheartening that Disney, one of the world’s most successful brands with massive resources and a global platform, failed to take any action to help prevent the passage of this bill,” the group wrote in an official statement.
Animators and creators at Disney were also taken aback by the company’s inaction, expressing their discomfort on social media.
“Working for this company has… made me so distraught,” said Dana Terrace, creator of Disney’s animated series The Owl House. “I hate having moral quandaries about how I feed myself and how I support my loved ones.”