Disney pauses Florida political donations after The Independent and media reveal company gave thousands to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ supporters

CEO Bob Chapek apologises in staff memo for failure to ‘be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights’

Alex Woodward,Nathan Place
Friday 11 March 2022 20:48
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Disney to meet with DeSantis to stop ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, CEO says
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The Walt Disney Company says it is “pausing” all political donations in Florida following outrage over its support for sponsors of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which LGBT+ advocates fear will have a chilling effect on LGBT+ students and families and classroom instruction on LGBT+ people and history.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced the donations freeze and other measures in a memo to employees obtained by The Hollywood Reporter on 11 March.

“Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states,” Mr Chapek wrote. “We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values. And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”

Disney has touted its LGBT+ advocacy and high marks as a LGBT+ friendly workplace from the Human Rights Campaign, but The Independent’s review of state campaign finance records found that Disney entities donated tens of thousands of dollars to Florida legislators who supported the bill, including at least $4,000 to the 2022 re-election campaigns for the bill’s chief sponsors, state Representative Joe Harding and state Senator Dennis Baxley.

Disney also donated at last $50,000 to a political action committee tied to Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021.

“Thank you to all who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company’s response to the Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” Mr Chapek wrote in the memo on Friday. “Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was … You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

For weeks, Disney employees and LGBT+ advocates have demanded that the company – which carries massive political weight in Florida – leverage its influence to publicly lobby against the legislation, which opponents warn will marginalise and endanger the lives of LGBT+ young people in Florida’s schools.

The “Parental Rights in Education” bill – named “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents – prohibits instruction of “sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through the third grade and any such discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades.

In a staff memo issued on Monday, hours before Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate debated the bill before its final passage, Mr Chapek said that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and are instead “weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”

He said the company’s films and programmes “are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort.”

In a live-streamed event for shareholders on Wednesday, one day after the state’s Senate passed the bill, he said he spoke with Governor DeSantis to share his “disappointment” with its passage and brokered a meeting with his office to ensure that the measure “could not be weaponised in any way … to unduly harm or target [LGBT+] kids and families.”

Governor DeSantis does not intend to veto the measure, and on Thursday he lashed out at Disney and “pressure from ‘woke’ corporations” – as well as a “fraudulent media narrative” that he claims has mischaracterised the legislation – after Mr Chapek’s remarks.

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