For the third time in the span of a week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has issued a statement addressing how the company responded to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.
The bill 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.”
Facing criticism for Disney having donated to every politician who sponsored the bill, Chapek initially said a public condemnation would be “counterproductive.” Met with only more criticism, the Disney CEO shifted his tone at the company’s annual meeting, publicly opposing the bill and saying he had called DeSantis “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.”
But that didn’t stop the backlash from any part of the political spectrum.
Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ+ rights group in the U.S., said it wouldn’t accept Disney’s pledged $5 million donation until it sees “meaningful action” to oppose proposals like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
On the right, DeSantis slammed Disney’s response, stating in video obtained by Fox News, “You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten in first grade classrooms. If that’s the hill they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China?” Disney does, in fact, do business with China, including co-ownership of the Shanghai Disneyland Resort, and has been criticized for filming parts of the 2020 remake of “Mulan” in Xinjiang province, where the Chinese government has forced around 2 million Uyghur Muslims into internment camps.
Which brings us to Chapek’s latest memo to employees on Friday. In addition to apologizing for the company’s earlier refusal to take a stance and saying “I let you down,” he announced Disney would be “pausing all political donations in the state of Florida” as it re-evaluates its advocacy efforts.
“I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community,” Chapek said. “I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on—and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”
While Disney has taken more heat for its political donations, its biggest theme park rival has also given money to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s sponsors. 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. Like Disney, Universal Orlando claims to be supportive of LGBTQ+ rights, selling “Love is Universal” merchandise during Pride Month.
Multiple emails sent by Theme Park Tribune to Comcast’s press officers asking about these donations, and seeking comment on the company’s position on the legislation, have gone unanswered.