After previously refusing to publicly condemn Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, Disney CEO Bob Chapek did so at the company’s annual meeting Wednesday.
The bill, which is expected to be signed into law by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, would forbid “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in public schools from kindergarten through third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” President Joe Biden called it “hateful” and it has been denounced by LGBTQ+ rights groups.
Disney faced a steady stream of criticism in recent weeks for having given political donations to every one of the bill’s co-sponsors. at the same time that it publicly touted “inclusion” as key part of its employee training and sells Pride Month-themed merchandise in its theme parks. Chapek’s first attempt at a public response was to say that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and could be “counterproductive.”
That memo inspired only more criticism, including from LGBTQ+ creators who have worked with Disney.
Chapek shifted his message on Wednesday, stating, “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, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
He continued on to say, “We were hopeful that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable use to achieve a better outcome, but despite weeks of effort we were ultimately unsuccessful.”
Chapek told shareholders that the company is reassessing its approach to political donations. He also said he called Gov. DeSantis on Wednesday “to express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families.”
According to Chapek, he and a group of Florida LGBTQ+ employees from Disney are scheduled to meet DeSantis at an unspecified date.
After Chapek’s comments, DeSantis’s office issued a statement casting doubt on the Disney CEO’s suggestion that the company had been advocating against the bill behind the scenes.
The statement said, “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. No in-person meeting has been scheduled yet.”
Chapek pledged that the company would donate $5 million to organizations supporting LGBTQ+ rights, such as the Human Rights Campaign. However, the HRC released a statement Wednesday night critical of Disney for speaking out only after Florida legislators voted on the bill.
“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,” HRC interim president Joni Madison said.
While Disney has borne the brunt of the backlash for donating to “Don’t Say Gay” supporters, it is not alone in that regard among theme park operators. Universal Orlando’s parent company, Comcast, has donated $28,000 to the bill’s sponsors, according to Popular Information, a newsletter written by liberal journalist Jedd Legum.
This article was updated twice after its original publication, first to include a statement from the office of Gov. DeSantis, and later to include a statement from the HRC.