Disney CEO Says Condemning Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Would Make Company 'Political Football'

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Cinderella's Castle - Walt Disney World - Sputnik International, 1920, 08.03.2022
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Multimedia giant Disney has rushed to defend its noncommittal stance on a Florida bill after being criticized by LGBTQ activists and advocates, saying that condemning the bill would turn the company into a “political football.”
Florida’s HB 1557, the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, is better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill because it would ban discussions of gender identity and sexuality in classrooms. This would reportedly stop LGBTQ teachers from discussing their identities or mentioning their same-gender spouses, and the children of LGBTQ parents from mentioning their parents in school.
The bill passed the Florida House in late February and is now before the Senate for consideration. It has also been endorsed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who claims it is banning “sexual instruction” and “a focus on transgenderism.”
Although Disney is headquartered in southern California, its EPCOT Center in Bay Lake, Florida, makes it a major economic powerhouse in the Sunshine State, as well. Last week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek released a statement about “creating a more inclusive world” and supporting the LGBTQ community, but did not directly mention HB 1557.
The company was widely panned for the non-response, with GLAAD president and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis saying companies that do business in states preparing or implementing anti-LGBTQ discriminatory laws “have a responsibility to speak out.”
Chapek’s predecessor, Robert Iger, also stepped up and unequivocally condemned the bill, retweeting a statement by US President Joe Biden that condemned the bill and saying: “I'm with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.”
All this and more prompted Chapek to issue an internal memo to Disney staff on Monday.
“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,” Chapek wrote. However, he said the company wouldn’t be changing its position on not taking a position.
“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” he said. “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.”
After recounting some of the company’s many films highlighting different marginalized identities in US society, Chapek said 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.”

However, this hasn’t always been the company’s policy. In 2016, Disney condemned the so-called “license to discriminate” bill that passed in Georgia, but was ultimately vetoed by then-Governor Nathan Deal. In addition, the Orlando Sentinel revealed that Disney has donated to the campaigns of every single sponsor and co-sponsor of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Chapek told Disney employees on Monday that Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Geoff Morrell would be “reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world - including political giving” in response to the blowback.
The bill is one of more than 160 bills potentially infringing on LGBTQ rights in US state legislatures this year, according to the LGBTQ rights group Human Rights Campaign. These bills span a wide variety of topics, from banning transgender teenagers from competing in girls’ sports teams to banning transgender women from using women’s restrooms.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott decreed last month that gender-affirming health care or behavior for transgender children would be considered “child abuse,” directing the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate reported and suspected cases. The rule could see children taken from their parents and taught going through puberty as the gender they were assigned at birth, which has been identified by health professionals as destructive of their mental health.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott issued an executive order last month declaring that gender-affirming health care or behavior for children would be considered “child abuse,” directing the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate reported and suspected cases. The rule could see children taken from their parents and taught going through puberty as the gender they were assigned at birth, which has been identified by health professionals as being detrimental to their mental health.
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