Disney opposes ‘Don’t Say Gay’ in Florida. What about other states?

Disney threatened to pull its big-budget business from Georgia over anti-LGBT+ legislation in 2016. Advocates and employees demand the political heavyweight use similar tactics against a new wave. Alex Woodward writes

In February, The Walt Disney Company celebrated its 16th consecutive year on the Human Rights Campaign’s “best places to work” for LGBT+ people. The company proudly references its diverse programming, support for transitioning workers and corporate training on LGBT+ inclusion. The company’s parks host annual Pride events and unofficial “Gay Days” drawing thousands of people annually.

Disney entities also have donated tens of thousands of dollars to Florida legislators who supported what opponents have called a “Don’t Say Gay” bill that could chill classroom speech and marginalise LGBT+ students and their families and teachers.

LGBT+ advocacy groups, the company’s LGBT+ employees, school associations and President Joe Biden’s administration, among others, have condemned the state’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which Governor Ron DeSantis intends to sign into law.

Following reviews of state campaign campaign finance records by The Independent and other media organisations, as well as growing pressure on the political heavyweight to leverage its massive influence and publicly lobby against the legislation, CEO Bob Chapek conceded that Disney had not done enough to oppose it and pledged to “combat similar legislation in other states.”

But in neighbouring Georgia, which Disney has turned into a “Hollywood South” behemoth with Marvel and Disney+ productions, Republican legislators have introduced a nearly identical bill, targeting private schools.

The company leadership has not publicly commented on the measure in Georgia, despite its history of public pressure threatening to pull its business from the state over Georgia’s restrictive abortion legislation and other recent anti-LGBT+ measures.

In 2016, Disney – which has filmed dozens of big-budget superhero films at a sprawling studio campus near Atlanta – announced that it would consider halting its productions in the state if a bill allowing faith-based groups to deny services to LGBT+ people become law. That bill was vetoed by the governor.

Disney to meet with DeSantis to stop ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, CEO says

In 2019, then CEO Bob Iger said it would be “very difficult” for the company to continue filming in the state, should it pass a measure banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

“I think many people who work for us will not want to work there, and we will have to heed their wishes in that regard,” he told Reuters at the time.

Last year, the company did not join Hollywood giants and major corporations threatening to boycott the state over the passage of a far-reaching election law in 2021.

On 22 March, Disney employees across the company – from ESPN to Lucasfilm and Pixar – walked out on their jobs to call on company leadership to publicly commit to an actionable plan that protects employees from anti-LGBT+ legislation, among other demands.

The protests were met with a series of social media statements from Disney affiliates to “stand with our community” and oppose any legislation “that threatens basic human rights” on Tuesday.

In a post on its LinkedIn page, The Walt Disney Company said it denounces “the discriminatory bills advancing in states across the country that are harmful to all of us” and opposes “any legislation that infringes on basic human rights.”

Protesting workers said in a statement to NBC News that they believe the company’s statements “about their commitment to our community means that any time legislation like this comes up again, they will take a more visible stand, and we plan to hold them accountable for that.”

Dozens of similar bills are currently being considered across the US.

In Louisiana, another state Disney has used for its productions, Republican state legislators are sponsoring a more extreme version of a “Don’t Say Gay” measure that would not only “prohibit classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” through eighth grade but also ban “teachers and others from discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity with students” in all grades.

Disney has not publicly lobbied against that measure.

Hundreds of businesses – including Apple, Dell, Google and Microsoft – have also signed on to statements condemning Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s directive likening gender-affirming care to child abuse.

Disney has not publicly joined such opposition.

The company has signed on to a Human Rights Campaign letter with more than 200 companies opposing legislation targeting LGBT+ people.

More than 320 anti-LGBT+ bills are under consideration in state legislatures across the US, with roughly one-third of those bills directly targeting transgender people, according to the organisation. Roughly half of those bills prohibit transgender youth from participating in school sports.

Disney did not return The Independent’s requests for comment.

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