Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive officer, has offered a major apology to company cast members and the LGBTQ+ community in response to Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Photo by Disney
And he has announced that all company political donations in Florida will be “paused” while he undertakes a complete review of their policies.
Chapek has been at the center of a political storm since the legislation was passed by the state senate on March 8, 2022 and is just awaiting the signature of governor Ron DeSantis—who plans to approve it—to become law.
Opponents of the bill had initially criticized Chapek’s lack of response after the senate’s vote, citing the company’s political donations to some of its backers in the legislature, which put it at odds with the company’s professed support of LGBTQ+ issues.
Properly called the Parental Rights in Education bill, the highly contentious legislation has been branded the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, and opposition to it has been steadily mounting across the country.
Chapek’s initial silence on the subject, which he said risked Disney involvement becoming “a political football,” received increasingly harsh comments in the media, and even from leading Pixar animators, but he dramatically changed tone on Wednesday (March 9), insisting the company opposed the legislation but had opted to work behind the scenes to try to influence lawmakers not to pass it.
Then, when DeSantis blasted “woke” Disney for its “phony hysteria,” Chapek issued a frank open letter to all cast members today (March 11), saying he had let them down, and that he would be “a better ally” to the LGBTQ+ community in future.
The main part of the letter read:
“To my fellow colleagues, but especially our LGBTQ+ community, thank you to all who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company’s response to the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It is clear this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.
“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. But, I know there is much more work to be done. I am committed to this work and to you all, and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally.”
The bill was initially passed by Florida’s Republican-controlled House in February, and then the senate this week, also along party lines.
In essence, it bans public schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in K-through third grade, but adds it is also banned “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.”
That vague language enraged LGBTQ+ rights groups, who insisted it could easily be extended to other age groups, was discriminatory, and risked students’ mental health.
Georgia lawmakers have subsequently introduced a similar bill.
LGBTQ+ advocates have vowed to fight the bill wherever it is raised, and it seems Disney is now firmly on their side.