Florida state GOP rep warns of ‘living hell’ for Disney over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill opposition

‘Really bad things are going to happen, and they’re freaking out,’ Anthony Sabatini says

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Saturday 02 April 2022 18:49 BST
Related video: DeSantis vs. Disney: War of words over parental rights bill
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A Florida lawmaker has said that Disney’s opposition to legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics will lead to a loss of government concessions, prompting a “living hell” for the company.

The Parental Rights in Education bill was signed into law by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis on Monday.

GOP State Representative Anthony Sabatini, who voted for the House bill in February, told Newsweek on Friday that Disney’s opposition to the law would have consequences.

On 28 March, Disney said its “goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts”.

Conservative lawmakers have threatened the withdrawal of government perks that have aided the company in the state since 1967. It was at this point that the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) was created, affording Disney tax privileges in addition to other concessions as well as the ability to “act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government”.

The RCID website states that Disney was at the time promising to convert “largely uninhabited pasture and swampland into a global destination”.

“When Disney purchased land for its theme parks, it pushed through laws that said it was self-governing,” Mr Sabatini told Newsweek. “They have their own police and fire departments and could even have their own nuclear power plant if they wished.”

“If it were up to me, I’d call a special session and Disney would lose all of it,” he added. “If they’re governed by local authorities, it’s not going to be pretty for them – they’ll be subject to all sorts of crazy taxes, rules and regulations. It will make life a living hell for them. They’ll be regulated like everybody else.”

Mr DeSantis told reporters on Thursday that he would be in favour of not allowing the company “to have their own set of rules compared to everybody else”.

Disney has been criticised by celebrities and its own employees, who staged a walkout, for not being quick enough to push back against the legislation.

The Disney+ streaming service said in a statement on 22 March that they “strongly denounce all legislation that infringes on the basic human rights of people in the LGBTQIA+ community – especially legislation that targets and harms young people and their families”.

The bill, which is seven pages long, states that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards”.

LGBT+ mental health group The Trevor Project has argued that the legislation obliterates “LGBTQ identity, history and culture” and that “vague parental notification requirements ... could effectively require teachers to ‘out’ LGBTQ students”.

On 28 March, Disney said that “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”.

“Disney is responding to radical, leftist nut-jobs in California. They’re corporate cowards,” Mr Sabatini said. “Disney is about to lose all its governing status in Florida. The hammer is going to drop so hard on Disney that they’re in full defence mode. Really bad things are going to happen, and they’re freaking out.”

The Independent has reached out to Disney for comment.

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