Disney has announced it will pause all political donations in Florida after lawmakers passed a controversial state bill that seeks to restrict discussion of LGBTQ issues or content in public schools.
The entertainment giant came under fierce criticism from LGBTQ employees for its decision to largely remain silent as the bill made its way through the legislature. Employees of Pixar, Disney’s animation subsidiary, piled on, accusing the company of hypocrisy, claiming that Disney higher-ups actively censor references to same-sex affection in films despite touting itself as an LGBTQ-affirming place to work.
CEO Bob Chapek initially defended the decision, claiming that the company “unequivocally” stands with its LGBTQ employees in the wake of the bill’s passage but saying he feared that taking a firmer position on the bill could backfire if any statements were “weaponized” by either proponents or opponents of the bill.
But following backlash, both internally and externally, Chapek apologized for the company’s silence, saying in a statement sent to employees that he was sorry for the pain caused by Disney’s inaction.
“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek said in the statement. “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
Still other activists previously criticized the company for having donated to all the politicians who sponsored the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by opponents.
The bill explicitly bans teacher- or school-led discussions of LGBTQ-related topics up to the third grade, and requires that any conversations in older grades be age-appropriate and “developmentally appropriate.” Critics say that, in practice, schools and individual teachers afraid of being sued by angry parents will preemptively censor student speech or LGBTQ-related content, possibly even at the middle and high school levels.
In his most recent statement, Chapek also said the company would be increasing its support for advocacy groups fighting against similar anti-LGBTQ legislation being pushed in other states, and would “reassess” the company’s overall political donation policies while pausing all political donations in Florida specifically.
In response, Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is poised to sign the bill into law, criticized Disney’s “woke” ideology while accusing the company of being “far too deep with the Communist Party of China” and having “lost any moral authority to tell you what to do,” a reference to the company’s opening of a theme park in China and its efforts to market its films to Chinese audiences.
“In the state of Florida, we are not going to allow them to inject transgenderism into kindergarten,” DeSantis said during a re-election campaign stop in Boca Raton. “The chance that I am going to back down from my commitment to students and back down from my commitment to parents’ rights simply because of fraudulent media narratives or pressure from woke corporations, the chances of that are zero.
“And when you have companies that have made a fortune off being family-friendly and catering to families and young kids, you know, they should understand that parents of young kids do not want this injected into their kids’ kindergarten classroom. They do not want their first graders to go and be told that they can choose an opposite gender. That is not appropriate for those kids.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of GLAAD, tweeted, “I’m glad to see Disney finally speaking up for LGBTQ people, and I hope to see more of it in the future. Companies have a responsibility to stand against corporate complacency in the face of anti-LGBTQ legislation.”
Ellis told The Washington Post that she was baffled by seeing how Disney dragged its feet on taking a position on Florida’s bill, noting that the company was nominated for seven GLAAD awards this year in categories specific to LGBTQ representation in children’s and family programming. Other critics previously noted that the company had gone on record to oppose an anti-abortion bill in Georgia in 2019 and another Georgia bill that would have allowed religious-based refusals of service to LGBTQ people and other groups back in 2016.
“Disney is one of the largest employers in Florida, so all eyes are on Disney to see what they are doing, and then others follow,” Ellis told the Post.
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