Has Disney really changed?
Disney CEO Bob Chapek says he's a changed man.
Just two weeks ago, in a March 7 memo to Disney staff, Chapek defended the company's decision to remain publicly silent about Florida's "Don't Say Gay" legislation. Chapek said he was concerned any statement about the legislation, which prohibits classroom discussion of "sexual orientation or gender identity" through the third grade, would be "weaponized" by opponents of LGBTQ rights and "counterproductive."
Chapek also defended the nearly $300,000 that Disney donated to supporters of the legislation, arguing that Disney "contributed to both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation."
The memo did not go over well with the Disney staff. A group of Pixar employees, for example, wrote a letter to Disney leadership saying they were "disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry" about Chapek's memo. The letter demanded, "Disney leadership …immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the 'Don’t Say Gay' bill, …fully denounce this legislation publicly, and …make amends for their financial involvement." Variety reported the Pixar letter, which also alleged that Disney cut LGBTQ content from Pixar movies, was "part of a wider reaction" by employees to Chapek's memo.
On March 9, Chapek abruptly reversed course. In a shareholder meeting, he announced that Disney was opposed to the "Don't Say Gay" legislation and that he had called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) to express his opposition. He also said Disney would donate $5 million to organizations supporting LGBTQ rights, including the Human Rights Campaign. The announcement came one day after the legislation was narrowly approved by the Florida Senate, sending it to DeSantis' desk.
Chapek's comments at the shareholder meeting were not well received. Human Rights Campaign said it "will not accept this money from Disney until we see them 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." Employees were also skeptical.
On March 11, Chapek took another stab at damage control. In a new memo, Chapek apologized for how he handled Disney's engagement with the bill and pledged to do better moving forward:
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. Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was. It is clear that 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.
Chapek said that Disney would start "standing up for the rights of all" and work to "combat similar legislation in other states." Chapek also announced that Disney was "pausing all political donations in the state of Florida" pending a review.
Many Disney employees still weren't convinced. A group of employees launched a website — whereischapek.com — calling for Disney to match Chapek's words. Beginning March 15, the group began staging 15-minute "break-time walkouts." Today, a group of Disney employees is participating in a full-day walkout.
So has Chapek changed? Will Disney back up Chapek's latest statement with meaningful action? At this point, Florida is a lost cause. DeSantis has given every indication he will sign the bill. It's just a matter of time.
But similar legislative and administrative attacks on the LGBTQ community are underway elsewhere. Popular Information contacted Disney and asked about its position regarding these efforts in five states. The company did not respond to Popular Information's request for comment.
Disney silent on Georgia bill that mirrors Florida
On March 8, Republican senators in Georgia introduced the “Common Humanity in Private Education Act,” or SB613, that mirrors Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The primary difference is the Georgia bill targets private schools.
Under the Georgia bill, private schools would not be permitted to “promote, compel, or encourage classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not appropriate for the age and developmental stage of the student.”
The bill is unlikely to pass this session because of timing issues. Senator Carden Summers (R), one of the sponsors of the bill, told Axios that he introduced the bill as a “conversation starter.”
Disney has filmed “dozens of big-budget” movies, including blockbusters like Avengers: Endgame and multiple TV series for Disney+, in Georgia. Disney has filmed in Georgia as recently as the summer of 2021. Disney has also been vocal about opposing legislation in the state in the past. In 2019, Disney’s former CEO Bob Iger “hinted that the company may not film future movies in Georgia in light of the state’s controversial abortion law.”
Disney silent on Tennessee bill that prohibits materials that "normalize" LGBTQ people
In Tennessee, a bill to ban “classroom material that would ‘promote, normalize, support, or controversial social issues, such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) lifestyles’” has been advancing in the House. Representative Bruce Griffey (R), the bill’s sponsor, suggested that materialsthat mention LGBTQ people “should be subject to the same restrictions and limitation[s] that there are on religious teachings that are not allowed in our schools.” While public schools are not allowed to force students to pray, texts that mention religion or religious people are not banned.
Disney silent on Lousiana's more extreme version of "Don't Say Gay"
A bill was introduced in Louisiana last week that is a more extreme version of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Florida's bill prohibits discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity through the third grade. Louisana's legislation, HB837, would “prohibit classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” through eigth grade. It would also prohibit “teachers and others from discussing their sexual orientation or gender identity with students” through twelth grade.
“My bill is an attempt to protect our most innocent from indoctrination of any kind,” Representative Dodie Horton (R), who sponsored the bill, said. According to WBRZ, Horton also said that she “wasn’t aware of the need” for the legislation until she read “some things on Twitter and Facebook.”
Disney has also used Louisiana as a filming location and began filming its new “National Treasure” series for Disney+ in Baton Rouge in February.
Disney silent on Oklahoma bill banning LGBTQ books
Ten Republicans in Oklahoma introduced legislation, SB1142, that “seeks to ban LGBTQ+ books from schools and school libraries.” The bill would ban “public school district[s], public charter school[s], or public school [libraries]” from having or promoting books that “make as their primary subject the study of sex, sexual preferences, sexual activity… sexual identity, or gender identity.”
The bill would also allow parents to request the removal of a book, and if it is not taken off the shelves, the parent would be paid a minimum of $10,000 each day the book remains. The Senate Committee on Education voted to pass the legislation on March 1, and it “now moves to the House floor.”
“[M]ore and more schools are trying to indoctrinate students by exposing them to gender, sexual and racial identity curriculums and courses,” Senator Rob Standridge (R), who sponsored the bill, said in a statement.
Disney operates a retail store in Oklahoma.
Disney silent on anti-trans directive in Texas
On February 18, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) issued an opinion stating that “facilitating the use of ‘puberty-blocking drugs’ by children ‘can legally constitute child abuse under several provisions of chapter 261 of the Texas Family Code.'” On February 22, Texas Governor Greg Abbott (R) issued a directive that cited Paxton’s opinion and ordered the head of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services “to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation of any reported instances of these abusive procedures in the State of Texas.” Parents who facilitated gender-affirming medical care for their children could have them taken away by the state.
A Texas judge temporarily blocked the state “from investigating parents of transgender youth” on March 11. According to NPR, District Judge Amy Clark Meachum said that “the directive exceeded Abbott’s authority under the Texas Constitution and the type of care it targeted never triggered an investigation prior to the directive.” That decision is under appeal.
Hundreds of companies have condemned the directive through the "Texas Competes" business coalition. Disney, however, is not a member.
Disney has a major presence in Texas across multiple business units and is currently hiring for 29 positions in the state.