A bill that has drawn a lot of criticism in Florida recently made its way through Florida’s legislative system.
What bill is it? What criticism has it drawn? And where does Disney stand in all of this? We’re breaking it down here for you.
UPDATE: Bill Signed into Law
As The Hill shares, Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics have deemed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has officially been signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The law is expected to take effect beginning on July 1st, 2022.
Disney has issued a response to the Bill being signed into law. In the statement, Disney notes 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.”
The statement continues: “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”
Disney ended the statement by saying “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.”
A Bit of Background
First, let’s share a little bit of background surrounding the situation in Florida. As The Hollywood Reporter shares, on February 25th the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Update: The Bill has now been signed into law.
The bill’s official name is the “Parental Rights in Education bill.” The bill “prohibit[s] primary school educators from engaging in discussions related to sexual orientation or gender identity.” The Hill shares that the bill also “restrict[s] mention of LGBTQ+ topics in classrooms that are not ‘age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.'”
Under the bill, parents are also set to be given “greater authority to take legal action against school districts believed to be in violation.”
Disney’s Initial Response
According to Good Morning America, Disney has issued a statement regarding the bill. In the statement, Disney notes that they “understand how important this issue is to [their] LGBTQ+ employees and many others.” Disney goes on to say that for “nearly a century, Disney has been a unifying force that brings people together. We are determined that it remains a place where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.”
According to Disney, they feel that the biggest impact they can have in “creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content [they] produce, the welcoming culture [they] create here and the diverse community organizations [they] support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community.”
NEW: Disney responds to protests and calls for action surrounding Florida's "Don't Say Gay" Bill, saying in part, "The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce."
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 4, 2022
Responses from Disney CEO Bob Chapek
Disney’s current CEO, Bob Chapek, has since issued a statement regarding the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill. In the statement, Chapek notes that he met with a small group of Disney LGBTQ+ leaders to discuss the “controversial” Florida legislation and said that it was a conversation he would not forget.
Chapek also shared more details about why Disney hasn’t issued a formal statement (aside from what was shared with GMA). According to Chapek, “As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. 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.”
Discussion During the Shareholder Meeting
During the Disney shareholder meeting held in March of 2022, Disney CEO Bob Chapek made further comments about the Company’s position on the Florida Bill and what actions they intend to take in the future. During the meeting, Chapek indicated that the Company was “opposed to the bill from the outset, but  chose not to take a public position on it because [they] thought [they] could be more effective working behind the scenes.” Chapek then noted that their behind-the-scenes efforts were ultimately unsuccessful.
During the shareholder meeting, Chapek also shared that he had spoken with Florida’s Governor, Ron DeSantis, to express his “disappointment” and concerns about what could happen if the Bill becomes law. And Chapek commented on what Disney would be doing moving forward. Specifically, he shared that Governor DeSantis had agreed to meet with Chapek and a small delegation of Cast Members to discuss their concerns with the law.
Chapek also noted that Disney would be “signing the Human Right’s Campaign’s statement opposing such legislative efforts around the country” as well as “pledging $5 million towards organizations,” including the Human Rights Campaign, that are “working to protect LGBTQ+ rights.”
Apology from Bob Chapek
Bob Chapek has since released an additional message, which was sent to employees and later shared on The Walt Disney Company website. The memo was addressed to “fellow colleagues,” but especially Disney’s LGBTQ+ community.
In the memo, Chapek stated, “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
The statement goes on to note, “Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states…And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”
Statements During Town Hall Meeting
Disney later held a town hall meeting regarding this Bill and Disney’s response. During the meeting, Chapek shared “I and the leadership team are determined to use this moment as a catalyst for more meaningful and lasting change.”
Chapek also noted that Disney would be creating a companywide task force to “develop strategies and action plans to work with employees, creators and Disney partners to be a more positive force for the LGBT community.” Other steps, including a “global listening tour of employees” are also set to be taken.
Responses to Disney’s Comments from Florida’s Governor and the Human Rights Campaign
In response to Chapek’s comments, a number of statements have been issued. CNN Business reports that Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Governor DeSantis, told CNN, “Disney contacted our office today to speak with the governor. This is the first time we have heard from Disney regarding HB 1557…The governor did take the call from Mr. Chapek. The governor’s position has not changed.” Governor DeSantis also made further comments in response to Disney’s statements — click here to see more.
Additionally, a press release was posted on the The Human Rights Campaign website regarding Disney’s donation. In the statement from Joni Madison, the Interim President of HRC, Madison notes that the HRC will NOT accept the money pledged by Disney until they “build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books.”
The statement also notes that “While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida — including hardworking families employed by Disney — today they took a step in the right direction. But it was merely the first step.”
Disney has since issued a statement in response. According to Variety, a spokesperson for Disney said while Disney was “surprised and disappointed that [the HRC] will not take our financial support at this time, we remain committed to meaningful action to combat legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community.”
Pixar Employee Comments and Company Statement
Some comments from Pixar employees have since been released in response to Chapek’s statement at the Shareholder meeting and previous comments. According to Deadline, a letter was signed by “The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies” and was circulated internally.
The letter expresses that Chapek’s memo regarding the Florida Bill “rang hollow.” According to Deadline, it also critiques Chapek’s indications that Disney has a long history of supporting the LGBT community by noting that the “Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone” and that “Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the parks, even removing same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s.”
The letter signed by the LGBTQIA+ Pixar employees goes on to state “It feels terrible to be a part of a company that makes money from Pride merch when it chooses to ‘step back’ in times of our greatest need, when our rights are at risk.”
In the memo previously sent by Chapek, he shared that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” when discussing why Disney had not issued a statement against the Florida Bill.
But in the letter from Pixar employees, they note that “the very email making this claim opened with a corporate statement regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine…That begs the question why Ukraine merited a public statement — and financial sanctions on Russia — but Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill did not.”
The Pixar letter also addresses Chapek’s comments that the “best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce.”
The letter from the Pixar employees states: “We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”
The letter reportedly ends by “demanding immediate action.”
UPDATE: Pixar has since released a statement on Instagram, showing their support for the LGBTQIA+ community. This statement directly references the “Don’t Say Gay” bills in Florida and other states.
They said, “All of us at Pixar stand with our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, friends, families, and fans around the world who are targeted by laws that marginalize and diminish their identities and lives. We value authenticity, inclusion, and community, and we denounce the discriminatory bills advancing in states across the country that are harmful to all of us. Everyone deserves love, dignity, respect, and safety.”
Update: Following criticism of Disney’s response to the Bill, other actions have been taken when it comes to Disney films. Specifically, a same-sex kiss has been put back into Disney’s upcoming “Lightyear” film.
The kiss had previously been cut from the movie, but has now been reinstated.
Statement from Disney Animation
Disney Animation has since posted a statement as well. The statement is addressed to the LGBTQIA+ community in the studio and “across the world.” They note that they “denounce any legislation that infringes” on the fundamental rights of these communities. You can read the full statement below.
To our LGBTQIA+ community in the studio and across the world, Disney Animation stands by you! We denounce any legislation that infringes on your fundamental human rights. You deserve to be safe, respected, and able to live your lives as your whole selves free from discrimination.
— Disney Animation (@DisneyAnimation) March 11, 2022
Statement from Marvel Studios
Marvel Studios showed their support of the LGBTQIA+ community on Twitter with a recent statement.
The statement reads, “We strongly denounce any and ALL legislation that infringes on the basic human rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. Marvel Studios stands for hope, inclusivity, and strength; and we proudly stand with the community. Today, we pledge to continue our strong commitment as allies who promote the values of equality, acceptance, and respect.”
More About the Bill, Disney Walkouts, Statements from Others in the Company, and Other Details
Looking to learn more about the Bill, what proponents and critics say, and what criticisms have been raised about Disney? See more below.
The full text of the Bill and its history can be found by visiting The Florida Senate’s website. The following is based off the PDF version listed on the site. One section of that version of the Bill notes, “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.”
The Bill also notes that “A school district may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information.”
The Bill goes on to say, “School district personnel may not discourage or prohibit parental notification of and involvement in critical decisions affecting a student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being. This subparagraph does not prohibit a school district from adopting procedures that permit school personnel to withhold such information from a parent if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect, as those terms are defined in s. 39.01.”
This is just a snippet of the bill. You can read more here.
What Proponents and Critics Say
Proponents of the Bill, according to The Hill, say it is “merely designed to strengthen the rights of parents and give them a larger voice in the child’s education.” According to Good Morning America, Representative Joe Harding has defended the Bill, saying that it would ban curriculum and lessons but “would not prohibit people from talking about gender identity and sexual orientation.” ClickOrlando.com said that State Senator Dennis Baxley, who wrote the bill, has indicated that what they are trying to do is “empower parents to take responsibility for their children.” But, some disagree.
The Bill has received heavy criticism from a number of individuals and groups, including the President of the United States. According to Good Morning America, LGBTQ advocates have said that the bill will “harm queer youth by shunning representation and inclusion from classrooms.” They also say that by erasing the presence of LGBTQ from lessons, it implies that “students should be ashamed or suppress their gender identity or sexual orientation.”
Amit Paley, the CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project said, “When lawmakers treat LGBTQ topics as taboo and brand our community as unfit for the classroom, it only adds to the existing stigma and discrimination, which puts LGBTQ young people at greater risk for bullying, depression, and suicide.”
The Hollywood Reporter notes that Florida’s bill has been “denounced by stars and a wave of LGBTQ advocates and nonprofits.” And some Florida students even walked out of class in protest of the Bill, according to The Hill.
ClickOrlando.com reported that Michael Kahane, from the AHF Foundation, said, “Kids need a safe space to discuss issues that they are going through, and if for whatever reason they don’t feel safe talking to their parents, they need to a trusted teacher or a counselor.” Orange County Commissioner Patty Sheehan shared, “I’ve seen some of the stuff on social media where they say we are indoctrinating children…No we are not. We’re teaching children that decency and accepting people who are different is a good thing.”
Some have also criticized the bill’s language. In a commentary piece written by Scott Maxwell for The Orlando Sentinel, Maxwell notes that the bill uses subjective phrases to set standards for “certain grade levels,” without defining what the levels are. According to the Orlando Sentinel, over 115 physicians from Florida have also shared that the bill would “endanger the safety of LGBTQ children.”
Criticism of Disney’s Previous Lack of Response
Aside from criticism of the Bill itself, some have been critical of Disney’s lack of a response (before they issued the statement discussed above). ClickOrlando.com previously reported that hundreds of people had gathered in front of the Disney sign, calling on Disney to “take a stand” against the Bill. There were reportedly over 200 people asking for Disney to take action. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation actually held 2 rallies on this issue — one in Florida and another in California.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation has also created an ad that was being played in the Orlando area. This ad specifically called out to Disney for a response.
Criticism Regarding Disney’s Donation Activities
Others have focused their criticism not (just) on Disney’s lack of response, but (also) on Disney’s donation activity to legislators in Florida who have supported this bill. According to ClickOrlando.com, State Senator Dennis Baxley (who wrote the Bill), “said the company has backed his campaign, saying Disney has ‘a world of interests on a variety of topics.'”
In a commentary piece written by Scott Maxwell for The Orlando Sentinel, Maxwell notes that “Disney has given money to every single sponsor and co-sponsor of this year’s infamous ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.” But, according to Maxwell, Disney isn’t alone. Popular Information (a news site) has tracked donations of various companies and found that many, including Publix, Walgreens, and Comcast NBC Universal, are all “major corporate contributors to supporters of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.”
— Rep. Anna V. Eskamani 🔨 (@AnnaForFlorida) February 22, 2022
Comments from Abigail Disney
Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney (Walt Disney’s brother), has openly shared her criticisms of certain practices of the Company in the past, and she again shared some criticism of Disney’s actions in regards to this bill.
Specifically, in a Tweet sent in response to another Twitter user about Disney reportedly funding legislators that support the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Abigail Disney said “I could not be more unhappy with their political activities, both in terms of whom they fund and how they lobby. I would strongly support a law to require all corporations to reveal ALL of their funding and lobbying moves.”
I could not be more unhappy with their political activities, both in terms of whom they fund and how they lobby. I would strongly support a law to require all corporations to reveal ALL of their funding and lobbying moves. https://t.co/TGLOO0woRw
— Abigail Disney (@abigaildisney) March 2, 2022
She later retweeted the Hollywood Reporter article regarding Disney and the Florida Bill and said, “As Einstein said, you can’t stand still on a moving train. When laws are being passed that are this hateful and dripping with prejudice, there is no neutrality. Not saying anything is saying a lot.”
It’s pretty fundamental. As Einstein said, you can’t stand still on a moving train. When laws are being passed that are this hateful and dripping with prejudice, there is no neutrality. Not saying anything is saying a lot. @WaltDisneyCo get a spine https://t.co/amek38qsAC
— Abigail Disney (@abigaildisney) March 3, 2022
Comments from Roy P. Disney and Charlee Disney
According to the Los Angeles Times, Roy P. Disney, who is the grandson of Roy O. Disney and great-nephew to Walt Disney, along with his wife and 2 kids, announced that they would be matching up to $500,000 in donations to the Human Rights Campaign.
Roy said, “Equality matters deeply to us…especially because our child, Charlee, is transgender and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Charlee had previously announced a $250,000 matching grant to the Human Rights Campaign at their annual gala, but Sheri Disney said the family later decided to double that number.
Charlee is 30 years old and is a high school biology and environmental science teacher. The LA Times says that the Human Rights Campaign gala was “something of a public coming-out” for Charlee.
In a Zoom call with the LA Times, Charlee said “I feel like I don’t do very much to help…I don’t call senators or take action. I felt like I could be doing more.” According to the LA Times, Sheri Disney said that the family was “disappointed by the Disney Co.’s initial refusal to take a stand against the Florida law but had no doubt the company would make it right.”
Comments from Bob Iger
Others associated with the Disney Company have also spoken out against the Bill. Specifically, former Disney CEO and Executive Chairman, Bob Iger, retweeted a statement from President Joe Biden which criticized the bill as “hateful.” In his response, Iger shared “I’m with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.”
I'm with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy. https://t.co/fJZBzre4yM
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) February 25, 2022
Comments from Others at Disney
Disney Imagineer Zach Riddley has since posted some comments on his Instagram regarding the Bill. Riddley shared, “I have made many friendships throughout my time at Disney with incredible LGBTQ+ Cast, Imagineers, leaders and allies. We are a strong community and our voices and our experiences matter.”
In addition to statements of criticism about Disney’s response (or lack thereof), some Disney employees (separate from the employee resource groups or PRIDE organizations) have organized walkouts. These employees have petitioned Disney for more action against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — in Florida and other states — and for stronger advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community.
The walkouts took place during Cast Members’ 15-minute break periods every day through March 21st, and a full-scale walkout (both physically and virtually) took place on March 22nd.
These statements were released by Walt Disney World, ESPN, and others.
Comments from Others Outside of Disney
California Governor Gavin Newsom responded to the situation with a tweet that said, “Disney, the door is open to bring those jobs back to California — the state that actually represents the values of your workers.” This is in reference to Disney’s recent decision to move about 2,000 Disney jobs from California to Florida.
Currently, it seems unlikely that this decision will be reversed. Disney has pulled donations away from Florida politicians in response to the bill. Chapek said, “Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states. 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.”
More About Disney’s Initial Response
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney’s current CEO, Bob Chapek, “appears to want to handle certain controversial topics through internal dialogue.” Disney’s chief diversity officer, Latondra Newton, reportedly sent a message to staff recently that indicated that Bob Chapek had asked: “to meet with leaders in our company’s LGBTQ+ community to discuss how Disney can best support these important and valued employees and cast members.”
The Hollywood Reporter shares that Newton indicated Disney would be scheduling a “Reimagine Tomorrow” conversation dedicated to “issues of concern to our LGBTQ+ colleagues.” Newton also announced a “Reimagine Tomorrow Global Summit” that would be company-wide. This summit is set to be “the first gathering of our employees worldwide to discuss our progress on and plans for improving diversity, equity and inclusion at Disney.” Chapek will reportedly be participating in the summit.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, a source has said that Iger was more prone to speaking out against issues “not only when issues affected the company’s business interests but when they affected its employees.” Disney’s new chief of corporate affairs, Geoff Morrell, has stated the following about Chapek, “He believes the best way we can help create a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create and the diverse community organizations we support.”
The New York Post shares that a source close to Disney has said that they don’t deem the issue of this Bill to be irrelevant, but reportedly Chapek had not seen a need to comment. The Hollywood Reporter also points out that the management of Disney’s own government relations has changed under Chapek, and that many of those issues now fall to 2 individuals that once served in the George W. Bush administration.
The Hollywood Reporter does note, however, that Disney’s website affirms its support for “freedom of identity and expression.” Disney has also supported a number of LGBTQ+ organizations over the years including “Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, GLSEN, Trevor Project and Outfest.”
We’ve also seen Disney support things like Gay Days, release Pride Month merchandise and snacks, and more. Disney also added the key of Inclusion into their guest services model back in 2020.
The Orlando Sentinel notes that an internal video was also recently sent to Disney employees which featured Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products. In the video, D’Amaro reportedly references the Florida bill broadly as “concerning” and “painful to our LGBTQ+ cast, allies and many in our community.” In the video, D’Amaro “emphasized Disney’s commitment to inclusivity” but didn’t directly condemn the Bill.
Criticism Regarding Disney’s Initial Response
According to the Orlando Sentinel, there has been some criticism of Disney’s statement released on GMA. The Sentinel shares that “Disney has been criticized by employees, fans and legislators for not taking a firmer position against discrimination against the LGBTQ community.” Some have called the statement from Disney “vague” and “a slap in the face.”
State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando has also criticized Disney’s response. Among other things, Eskamani said “If we want to retain and hire top talent in a state like Florida for any business, small [or] big, you want an environment that embraces diversity…And so Disney’s silence is not only detrimental to their employees and their employees’ families, but it’s also detrimental to just having a strong economy in Florida.”
This is a developing situation. We’ll continue to look for more updates and responses from Disney.