Disney execs working to remove gendered greetings from theme parks

Disney calls for repeal of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ or for law to be ‘struck down in the courts’

Johanna Chisholm
Wednesday 30 March 2022 16:13 BST
Disney to meet with DeSantis to stop ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, CEO says

The Walt Disney Company plans to remove all mentions of gender from its theme parks, just days after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, according to a leaked video of a company meeting on Twitter.

Right-wing activist Christopher Rufo shared on Tuesday a video from what he describes as “Disney’s all-hands meeting about the Florida parental rights bill”, a piece of legislation that prohibits teachers from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida classrooms.

The video showed conversations from some of Disney top executives discussing the bill, including a segment with Vivian Ware, the company’s diversity and inclusion manager.

Ms Ware appears to be giving a presentation in one of the videos Mr Rufo shared, with the words “reimagine tomorrow” written above her screen.

The companywide initiative announced last year includes increasing representation across Disney content, with half of all characters coming from underrepresented groups. Last summer, the company removed all gendered greetings from the narration that accompanies their theme park rides, she said in the video.

“We no longer say, ‘ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls … We’ve provided trainings for all of our our cast members and in relationship to that so now they know it’s, ‘hello everyone’ or ‘hello friends,” Ms Ware said in the video.

She went on to explain how the company is continuing to overhaul pre-recorded messages so that everyone can “have that magical moment”, highlighting the example set with the fireworks show at the Magic Kingdom in Florida where they replaced the “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” with “dreamers of all ages”.

“We don’t want to assume just because someone might be in our interpretation presenting as female that they may not want to be called ‘princess’,” Ms Ware continued in the segment, adding that taking the time to critically think about how the cast members – staff at Disney parks – engaging with guests can make for a more “inclusive” experience.

“That makes it more magical and memorable for everyone,” she said.

This leaked footage of the top-level meetings arrives just a day after the entertainment juggernaut issued a statement vowing to help repeal the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” law, which opponents argue will marginalise LGBT+ students and their families and school staff while chilling classroom speech.

“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” the statement reads.

“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

These recent efforts arrive after Disney, who with 75,000 employees in Florida is one of the state’s biggest employers, and its CEO Bob Chapek were publicly admonished for their initial mishandling on HB 1557, prompting some employees to stage walkouts earlier this month.

In response to the leaked videos, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, a vocal ally to the controversial bill, expressed his dismay on his evening programme, which was also hosting a special guest: Governor DeSantis

“So I don’t understand why an entertainment company that makes animated movies gets to control legislation in your state,” said Mr Carlson, posing the guiding question to the Florida governor, a guest on the Fox personality’s show on Tuesday night.

“You gotta wonder like, why is the hill to die on to have transgenderism injected into kindergarten classrooms or woke gender ideology injected into second grade classroom,” Mr DeSantis shot back.

“It’s just an odd manifestation of their corporate values,” he said.

The governor’s remarks do not reflect what is in the text of the bill.

It instead relies on broad language that would impact nearly all grade levels by prohibiting “classroom instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade, as well as such discussion considered “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in any grade level, while giving parents the ability to sue schools for perceived violations.

The bill also does not define “instruction” or age appropriateness, potentially leaving its interpretation open to bans on discussing LGBT+ people, history and events in curriculum, or students’ families, or questions from students about any those issues, opponents have argued.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill was signed in to law on Monday but won’t come into effect until 1 July.

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