news Disney to Still Fund ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Backers, Will Support Gay Rights with ‘Inspiring Content’

The Walt Disney Company issued a statement of support for the LGBTQ+ community amid the backlash against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, supported by state politicians that the corporation has funded. But the company is still funding the homophobic politicians who’ve supported the bill, and nothing Disney CEO Bob Chapek has said indicates that that will change.

The Orlando Sentinel reported that Disney has given money to every single sponsor and co-sponsor of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was passed by Florida’s House of Representatives February 24. Officially titled the House Bill 1557, the proposed law is heading to the state’s Republican-held Senate next.

As the Orlando Sentinel stated, the bill’s Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has actively backed anti-gay legislation for years, including laws that would block gay couples from adopting children.

Additionally, Baxley “once compared kids who live with same-sex parents to kids raised by alcoholics and abusers and later said, ‘I’m not phobic, but I simply can’t affirm homosexuality.'” The Walt Disney Company has allegedly donated to Baxley, among other bill supporters.

As of this publication, Disney will not stop funding Baxley and other Florida Republican politicians who support this bill. Instead Disney released this statement: “We understand how important this issue is to our LGBTQ+ employees and many others,” the Walt Disney Company stated, via Good Morning America. “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.”

The statement continues, “The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create here, and the diverse community organizations we support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community.”

President Biden called the bill “hateful,” tweeting, “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”

Former Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger responded on Twitter, “I’m with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.”

However, current Disney CEO Bob Chapek has yet to make a personal statement outside of the official Disney company address. Per a The Hollywood Reporter exposé, Chapek is “staunchly opposed to bringing Disney into issues he deems irrelevant to the company and its businesses,” according to a THR source.

FILE - Disney chief executive Bob Chapek speaks during a ceremony at Hong Kong Disneyland on Sept. 11, 2015. In a virtual presentation for investors, Chapek laid out direct-to-consumer efforts, leaning heavily on some of the company's biggest brands. But even as Disney emphasized its expanding streaming portfolio, the company said it remains dedicated to releasing many of its big-budget spectacles in movie theaters. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

Bob Chapek

AP

Latondra Newton, Disney’s chief diversity officer, sent a message to Disney’s 195,000 employees to discuss the “deeply troubling and heartbreaking” developments with the Florida bill, citing that 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 company is slated to host a “Reimagine Tomorrow” conversation on March 22 that will be dedicated to “issues of concern to our LGBTQ+ colleagues,” and partake in a company-wide “Reimagine Tomorrow Global Summit” on April 13 that will be “the first gathering of our employees worldwide to discuss our progress on and plans for improving diversity, equity and inclusion at Disney,” with Chapek participating.

Disney has 77,000 employees in Florida, where it operates both parks and cruises. Pre-COVID, Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Consumer Products division accounted for more than one-third of all company revenue.

Disney’s website states that the company is “a leader in LGBTQ workplace equality and content and is committed to inclusive workplaces, and supports welcoming environments in local communities.” The conglomerate has also donated to LGBTQ+ non-profits like the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, GLSEN, Trevor Project, and Outfest, among others. Disney started offering benefits to partners of LGBTQ+ employees in 1996 and launched the first Disney Pride group in 1999.

As for gay representation onscreen, Bill Condon’s live-action “Beauty and the Beast” is notable for featuring an “exclusively gay moment” between LeFou (Josh Gad) and Gaston (Luke Evans). Yet actor Gad later expressed “regret” over how the scene was labeled.

“It was never intended to be a moment that should laud ourselves for, because frankly, I don’t think we did justice to what a real gay character in a Disney film should be,” Gad told The Independent. “If we’re going to pat ourselves on the back, then damn it we should have gone further with that. We didn’t go far enough to warrant accolades. We didn’t go far enough to say, ‘Look how brave we are.’”

Gad added, “Everybody deserves an opportunity to see themselves on screen, and I don’t think we’ve done enough — and I certainly haven’t done enough to do that.”

Former CEO Iger previously spoke out about political issues, including threatening to cease production in Georgia if the state passed anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” in 2019 and President Trump’s Muslim ban legislation.

Iger and Chapek formerly co-signed a letter to employees in 2020 that read, “The recent killing of George Floyd as well as other instances of lethal attacks and harassment of unarmed Black citizens in our nation continue to drive outrage and calls for action by people of all cultural backgrounds, including many of our employees.” The letter also cited the disproportionate impact of COVID on communities of color and said Disney would “ensure we are fostering a culture that acknowledges our people’s feelings and their pain.”

Most recently, Disney recently became the first studio to pull its films out of Russia.

The Walt Disney Company’s support of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has incited social media backlash. Producer and documentary filmmaker Abigail Disney, who is the daughter of former Disney animation head Roy E. Disney and great-niece of Walt Disney, took to Twitter to condemn the corporation’s financial backing of the bill, which prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida primary schools.

“I could not be more unhappy with their political activities, both in terms of whom they fund and how they lobby,” Disney tweeted about the Walt Disney Company’s reported political contributions. “I would strongly support a law to require all corporations to reveal ALL of their funding and lobbying moves.”

“Ducktales” writer Benjamin Siemon voiced his disappointment in Disney’s involvement in the bill, tweeting, “I love and have loved working for Disney, but I am deeply saddened by their silence when it comes to speaking out against the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, especially now that an amendment suggests teachers must disclose a student’s sexuality even if they know that child will be harmed.”

Gay historian and Pulitzer finalist Dr. Eric Cervini tweeted that “Disney is funding hate” despite posing as an “ally” corporation. “#NoMorePridePosers,” Cervini added while announcing a boycott of all Disney-owned media including Hulu, ABC, ESPN, Marvel, and Disney Parks. The boycott will stop once Disney “pledges to permanently cease contributions to the bill’s supporters.”

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."

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— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 4, 2022
 
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