The Walt Disney Company held its 2022 annual shareholders meeting yesterday afternoon (March 9), and during it, Disney CEO Bob Chapek talked about the company’s response to Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education legislation, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Chapek stated the company was actually opposed to bill (formerly known as HB 1557) from the begining, but they decided to not make a statement but instead to work behind the scenes.
However after the outcry on social media regarding their non-stance statement earlier this week, Chapek says he called Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss their concerns, and during the call, he agreed to meet with Chapek and LGBT members of the Disney team to further discuss the legislation.
Chapek said Disney has also signed on to the Human Rights Campaign’s statement opposing the bill and other anti-LGBT+ legislation, and will be donating $5 million dollars to HRC for work to protect the LGBTQ+ community.
He noted that the company will be reassessing its “political giving in Florida and beyond,” as well.
Governor DeSantis’ office was the first to responded to Chapek’s comments soon after the meeting stating,”Disney contacted our office today to speak with the governor. This is the first time we have heard from Disney regarding HB 1557. The governor did take the call from Mr. Chapek. The governor’s position has not changed.”
Next to respond was the Human Rights Campaign, which issued the following statement from Joni Madison, Interim President of HRC late yesterday:
“The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books. Businesses have had and continue to have a major impact in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from marriage equality to the defeat of House Bill 2 in North Carolina and beyond.
While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida — including hardworking families employed by Disney — today they took a step in the right direction. But it was merely the first step.
HRC encourages Disney, and all employers, to continue to fight for their employees – many of whom bravely spoke out to say their CEO’s silence was unacceptable – and the LGBTQ+ community by working with us and state and local LGBTQ+ groups to ensure these dangerous anti-equality proposals that harm LGBTQ+ families and kids have no place in Florida.
Every student deserves to be seen, and every student deserves an education that prepares them for health and success — regardless of who they are. This should be the beginning of Disney’s advocacy efforts rather than the end.”
New York Time’s reporter Brooks Barnes posted that Disney had responded to the HRC’s statement:
They weren’t the only ones to respond to Chapek’s speech during the shareholders meeting, though.
In a story broken on Twitter by Jude Legum of the newsletter Popular Information, then reported by Variety, Pixar’s LGBTQIA+ employees and their allies wrote a formal statement that alleges that Disney corporate executives have demanded cuts from “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection… regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar.”
Here is their full statement:
A Statement to Leadership from the LGBTQIA+ Employees of Pixar & Their Allies
“We are writing because we are disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry. In regards to Disney’s financial involvement with legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, we hoped that our company would show up for us. But it didn’t.
Monday’s email, “Our Unwavering Commitment to the LGBTQ+ Community”, rang hollow. It began with the claim that Disney has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, but Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone. Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the parks, even removing same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s. Additionally, Disney began capitalizing on Pride in 2018 with The Rainbow Mickey Collection, (while de-emphasizing the terms like LGBTQ+ and not even featuring explicitly LGBTQIA+ pieces such as Pride flag pins until 2021). To this end, it feels terrible to be a part of a company that makes money from Pride merch when it chooses to “step back” in times of our greatest need, when our rights are at risk.
The second claim stated that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds”. However, the very email making this claim opened with a corporate statement regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Eight days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Disney paused the release of theatrical films in Russia and announced “We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation.” Following the siege on the capital in 2021, Disney stopped all political donations to members of Congress who had objected to the presidential election results. In 2016, Disney told the state of Georgia: “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law” in response to the controversial Religious Liberty bill. By taking a stand, Disney directly affected the legislative outcome in Georgia. It has been proven that Disney’s corporate statements can and do make a difference.
Finally, we come to the push for Content as the answer. We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it. Beyond the “inspiring content” that we aren’t even allowed to create, we require action.
We are calling on Disney leadership to immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to fully denounce this legislation publicly, and to make amends for their financial involvement. While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough. Throughout the shareholder meeting, Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate “both sides” – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question and answer portion of the meeting. This is not what it means to “unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.”
Disney taking a stand by honoring their company values has changed the course of legislation in the past. If Disney is true in its values, it will take a decisive public stand against the discriminatory legislation occurring in Florida and offer tangible support for the LGBTQIA+ communities affected by bigoted legislation sweeping the country. Stand against this bill in Florida and against the similar bills in South Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, and Tennessee. Stand against the transphobic legislation in Texas, Iowa, Utah, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama. Many hateful groups are attempting to eradicate us through legislation – we need you to stand with us entirely, not in empty words.
This matter is not something that can wait until Reimagine Tomorrow in April, or Pride Month in June. This matter needs to be addressed now. This is urgent. 42% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in 2021, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, with a large factor being the lack of support that these discriminatory legislations enable. Disney claims to care for the welfare of children, but supporting politicians like this directly hurts one of their most vulnerable audiences. There are lives at stake and Disney’s support could save those lives. “We still have more work to do,” your email said. This is that work.
Signed with Pride,
The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies”
Neither Disney nor Pixar executives have formerly responded to this statement as of this early morning.
Here is Legum’s original Twitter thread:
Legum followed up the Pixar post with another stating that “in the last two years, @Disney donated $299,126 to 68 Florida politicians who support the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. $249,126 to members of the Florida House and Senate who voted for the bill and $50,000 to DeSantis.”
It’s a lot to unpack, but I have a feeling we haven’t heard the last on this continuing issue. We’ll keep you updated as information is released.