Right now the Florida legislature is debating on openly discrimatory and controversial Parental Rights in Education legislation (House Bill 1557), also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill
If it passes, virtually all discussion or teaching about the LGBTQ+ community and “sexual orientation or gender identity” will be banned in the state’s public school system for children of a certain age. Additionally, if these children are found to be identifying as LGBT+, the school will have to tell the parents, even if this places the children in a hostile environment.
The Florida House approved the bill Feb. 24 in a mostly party-line vote. Seven Republicans broke ranks with their party and voted against the legislation. The Senate could possibly approve it as soon as today.
People have been pushing Disney, one of the state’s largest corporations, and employer of many in the LGBT+ community, to take a stand against the bill, despite records showing the company has donated to many of the politicians who are spearheading the bill.
As the Orlando Sentinel reported, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has actively backed anti-gay legislation for years, including laws that would block gay couples from adopting children. Disney has funded Baxley’s political campaigns.
Even former Disney CEO Bob Iger took a stance on the bill via his social media:
“I’m with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.”
On March 3, Abigail Disney, Roy E. Disney’s daughter commented on the bill and why she thinks Disney won’t take a stand.
“I am deeply angered by Disney thinking it can look the other way for this hateful ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and it takes a seriously flawed moral compass to not see that funding the people who wrote and passed it is anything less than supporting their ugly agenda,” she commented as part of a multi-part Twitter thread that you can read here:
Originally Disney released a statement addressing backlash late on March 3 via the website of ABC’s “Good Morning America,” which reads, “We understand how important this issue is to our LGBTQ+ employees and many others. For nearly a century, Disney has been a unifying force that brings people together. We are determined that it remains a place where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create here and the diverse community organizations we support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community.”
Over the weekend, Christina Pushaw, the Florida governor Ron DeSantis’ spokeswoman, dubbed the legislation the “anti-grooming” bill, suggesting on Twitter that people against it support pedophilia.
However yesterday, after days of dodging the issue, CEO Bob Chapek released an official statement from the company that was, frankly, disappointing to many, including those LGBT+ employees and cast members.
In addressing Disney’s lack of action towards the bill, Chapek stated, “As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. 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.”
He went on to say: “And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support.”
He also passed the buck a bit on addressing why Disney contributes to politicians who support this bill, stating: “Geoff Morrell, our new Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, will be reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world—including political giving—as he begins to integrate the communications, public policy, government relations and CSR teams.”
Here is the full memo:
Before getting to the heart of my message, I want to acknowledge all those impacted by the invasion of Ukraine, especially our team in Europe and our employees around the world who have family in the region. This is an unimaginably difficult time, and my thoughts are with you. I also want to thank the ABC News team covering the horrific events there. Their courage and dedication to informing the world during this crisis is exemplary.
On Friday, I met with a small group of Disney LGBTQ+ leaders to discuss controversial legislation pending in Florida that would impact their communities. I want to thank them for a meaningful, illuminating, and at times deeply moving conversation. I told the group I would write to the entire company with my thoughts on the issues we discussed. I wish every one of our employees could have heard not just the passionate voices in the room, but the bravery, honesty, and pride those voices expressed. It is a conversation I will not forget.
One common theme was disappointment that the company has not issued a public statement condemning the legislation. That disappointment was compounded by the fact that, while not perfect, our company has a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community—and in fact, has played an important role in the personal journeys of so many of our employees.
I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company—and world. I understand that the very need to reiterate that commitment means we still have more work to do.
I also believe you deserve an explanation for why we have not issued a statement. We are going to have a more fulsome conversation about this at the company-wide Reimagine Tomorrow Summit in April, but I will preview that discussion now as it is so timely.
As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. 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.
I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of a statement for a lack of support. We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there. And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support.
There’s a reason content is at the top of this list. For nearly a century, our company’s stories have opened minds, inspired dreams, shown the world both as it is and how we wish it could be, and now more than ever before, represent the incredible diversity of our society. We are telling important stories, raising voices, and I believe, changing hearts and minds.
Encanto, Black Panther, Pose, Reservation Dogs, Coco, Soul, Modern Family, Shang-Chi, Summer of Soul, Love, Victor. These and all of our diverse stories are our corporate statements—and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort. I firmly believe that our ability to tell such stories—and have them received with open eyes, ears, and hearts—would be diminished if our company were to become a political football in any debate.
Powerful content that changes hearts and minds only springs from inclusive cultures, which not only attract and retain the best and most diverse talent, but also give those employees the freedom to bring forth ideas that reflect their lives and experiences. We must work together to ensure Disney always remains such a place.
In terms of our communities, we are and will continue to be a leader in supporting organizations that champion diversity. In 2021, we provided nearly $3 million to support the work of LGBTQ+ organizations. And, we have a long history of supporting important events like Pride parades, and for being there in times of need, just as we were following the Pulse shooting in Orlando. All this is why we have earned a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign for 16 years in a row.
Finally, I want to address concerns about our political contributions in Florida. While we have not given money to any politician based on this issue, we have contributed to both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation. I can also share that Geoff Morrell, our new Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, will be reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world—including political giving—as he begins to integrate the communications, public policy, government relations and CSR teams.
Our company has been a force for inclusion for a long time—and that will not change on my watch. We all have a role to play in this effort—from the Cast Members who make magical memories for fans and families of all kinds, to storytellers who take audiences on journeys to new storyworlds that illuminate our own, to everyone in between who is responsible for ensuring our culture lives up to our values. I hope we will all continue rowing in the direction of a better tomorrow.”
Abigail Disney was quick to respond via her Twitter: “Again, doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that if you write a check to a politician you are not neutral. If you write several checks to several of them you are complicit. There’s no hiding from this one.”
Disney has consistently been named one of the best places to work for LGBTQ+ Equality by the Human Rights Campaign, and is a member of its Business Coalition for the Equality Act.
It has been a host for Gay Days, an Orlando gathering that generally attracts over 150,000 people each June, at its Florida parks since 1991.
It also seems to champion inclusivity within its work force, and yes, is working on representation within its film and TV projects.
So this is why many feel the company’s official stance is a slap in the face to the LGBT+ community.
And it goes without saying that if the bill passes, many other states have similar anti-LGBT+ bills on the docket that also stand a chance of passing. Not to mention future anti-LGBT+ bills that can use this as a stepping stone to get passed.
The annual meeting of shareholders of The Walt Disney Company takes place tomorrow, March 9, 2022. It’s possible Chapek many speak further on this issue.
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