In response to criticism about the Walt Disney Company not publicly denouncing Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek issued a statement explaining the company’s stance — and what we got in return was more criticism.
The legislation, which is supported 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.”
Disney has faced calls to condemn the bill from fans, columnists, and Abigail Disney, great-niece of Walt Disney and frequent critic of the company. Chapek explained why the company wouldn’t do that in an email to employees sent on Monday. It stated, in part:
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.
The letter also addressed how Disney has donated to each Florida legislator who is co-sponsoring the bill:
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.”
Variety reported on numerous people that have worked on Disney productions that were not satisfied with Chapek’s memo. Dana Terrace, creator of the Disney Channel series “The Owl House,” said in a video, “Disney was recently found out to be donating large sums of money, hundreds of thousands of dollars, to the sponsors and co-sponsors of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, a bill that effectively tells LGBT+ kids, ‘You don’t exist. You don’t deserve to exist. You shouldn’t even be talked about.’”
Alicia Stella, owner of the theme park news site Orlando Park Stop, told the Orlando Sentinel, “It’s worse than a response. This is a non-response.”
An earlier story from the Hollywood Reporter indicated that Chapek is less willing than his predecessor, Bob Iger, to take political stances and is believed to be more conservative politically. However, Chapek’s tenure has included moves ostensibly meant to promote LGBTQ+ rights, such as making “inclusion” a key part of training for theme park employees.
Disney is not alone in financially supporting politicians behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. 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.