Disney faces mounting pressure to condemn ‘Don’t Say Gay’ ahead of shareholders meeting

Disney employees, elected officials and LGBT+ advocates demand company speak out against legislation

Alex Woodward
New York
Tuesday 08 March 2022 21:48
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LGBTQ+ Florida senator makes tearful plea against 'Don't Say Gay' bill
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The Walt Disney Company faces growing calls to condemn Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation following reports of company donations to state legislators who supported a measure that critics argue will marginalise LGBT+ students and families.

The Independent’s review of state campaign finance records found that several 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.

Within the last two years, Disney entities donated more than $197,000 to Republican officials and state legislators who supported the bill, according to reporting from Popular Information.

Disney employees, elected officials, LGBT+ advocates and opponents of the bill have demanded that the company speak out against the measure, which LGBT+ advocates have warned will endanger the lives of LGBT+ young people and have a chilling effect on LGBT+ schoolchildren and their families as well as classroom instruction and lessons on LGBT+ people and issues.

The company – which publicly advocates for LGBT+ people and promotes its LGBT+-inclusive workplace policies – holds its shareholder meeting on 9 March, days after CEO Bob Chapek issued a staff memo defending his decision to avoid issuing a statement on the bill.

The “Parental Rights in Education” bill 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. It also grants parents the ability to sue school districts and collect damages if they believe their children’s teachers have violated the measure.

The measure passed Florida’s Senate on 8 March, and Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law.

At least one Florida legislator has called on Disney – which wields massive political and economic power in the Sunshine State – to leverage its influence and speak out publicly against the bill, which has been roundly rejected by international LGBT+ advocacy organisations.

Democratic state Representative Anna Eskamani said legislators are calling on the company and shareholders “to heed our call for action.”

“Don’t waste this opportunity to leverage your influence and uphold your values as a company to support your cast members, your staff members and their families,” she said during a call with Voters of Tomorrow on Tuesday.

Ben Siemon, a LGBT+ writer whose credits include Disney’s DuckTales, issued an emotional video statement warning that the bill is “going to hurt kids” and urging the company to issue a public statement against it.

“I’ve loved working for Disney – it’s an amazing company,” he said in the video posted on 6 March. “But when they have donated to the sponsors and co-sponsors of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and they have made take no position against this bill and are going to continue donating to these politicians, they are essentially saying that this bill is OK.”

Dana Terrace, who created Disney’s animated series The Owl House, issued a video statement saying that the company has “made me so distraught.”

“I hate having moral quandaries about how I feed myself and how I support my loved ones,” she said in a video on 7 March.

She plans to host a livestream to benefit LGBT+ organisations on 13 March.

In a statement on Monday, hours before the state senate debated the bill before its final passage, Mr Chapek sought to explain why the company did not release a statement addressing the legislation.

“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.”

He said the company’s films and programmes – pointing to the TV series Modern Family and films like Encanto and Black Panther – “are our corporate statements.”

“And they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort,” he said. “I firmly believe 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.”

Mr Chapel also announced that company’s new chief corporate affairs officer Geoff Morrell will be “reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world – including political giving” in the wake of the legislation.

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