Orlando Magic donates $50,000 to DeSantis Super PAC
The Orlando Magic, Central Florida's NBA franchise, publicly supports the LGBTQ community. The team declared its March 21, 2023 contest against the Washington Wizards as "Pride Night" to "celebrate diversity, equity, inclusion, and unity with the LGBTQ+ community." The game featured a performance by the "Orlando Gay Chorus," "pride-themed donuts, ice cream, and specialty cocktails," and honored local LGBTQ activist Felipe Sousa-Lazaballet. The team also created a special rainbow-colored Magic t-shirt:
Fans who bought tickets to the game could direct a portion of the ticket price to support LGBTQ non-profit groups, including Come Out With Pride, Gay Officers Action League, and the onePULSE Foundation. On game day, the Magic also announced a $30,000 donation by the DeVos Family Foundation to the Zebra Coalition, which provides "services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all youth (LGBTQ+) facing homelessness, bullying, isolation from their families or abuse."
The pro-LGBTQ messaging was not limited to one game. The Orlando Magic "celebrated inclusivity, diversity and pride" throughout October 2022, including "a panel who shared lived experiences, best practices and insightful recommendations related to cultivating a safe space for members of the LGBT community." In March 2021, the Orlando Magic honored Kellie Parkin, the executive director at The Pride Chamber, a group dedicated to "to support companies within the LGBTQ community." Parkin praised the Magic and former head coach Steve Clifford for "promoting equity, inclusion and social justice initiatives" and "actively being an ally."
And yet on June 26, 2023, the Orlando Magic donated $50,000 to Never Back Down, the Super PAC supporting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' (R) presidential campaign.
Direct corporate donations to federal candidates are prohibited. But a donation to Never Back Down is just as good as a donation to DeSantis' campaign. The Super PAC has "effectively morphed into an arm of the campaign — even hosting DeSantis on recent bus tours through Iowa." In the first half of 2023, Never Back Down spent $33.7 million, much of it on traditional campaign functions like polling and canvassing. DeSantis' official campaign spent just $7.9 million since its launch.
DeSantis has created a national profile through his hostility toward LGBTQ rights. In 2022, DeSantis championed the Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly known as the "Don't Say Gay" law, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity through the third grade. DeSantis' Department of Education later extended the prohibition to all grades. As Popular Information has documented, the "Don't Say Gay" law has been used to justify banning books with LGBTQ characters from Florida school libraries.
In 2023, DeSantis signed laws that "restrict gender-affirming healthcare for transgender people under the age of 18," prohibit trans people from using a bathroom that matches their gender identity, and ban minors from attending some drag shows.
DeSantis' presidential campaign produced a brazenly homophobic video, bragging that DeSantis' "policies toward the LGBTQ+ community" are "totalitarian, 'horrifying,' and 'evil.'" The video also attacks Trump for allegedly being more sympathetic to LGBTQ rights. DeSantis defended the video, saying it was "totally fair game" to identify "Donald Trump as really being a pioneer in injecting gender ideology into the mainstream where he was having men compete against women in his beauty pageants." The video was panned by the Log Cabin Republicans, a conservative LGBTQ group, who called it "divisive and desperate."
DeSantis has pledged, if elected president, "to reintroduce the ban on military service by transgender members of the U.S. Armed Forces." He has also promised to bring his "anti-woke" policies, including those targeting the LGBTQ community in Florida, to the entire country.
"This donation is a slap in the face to the team’s Black players and their LGBTQIA+ fans. Ron DeSantis stands against everything the Orlando Magic say they are for. This donation just shows that all of their previous claims of social justice were all just PR work," Nailah Summers-Polite, co-director of the Florida social justice group Dream Defenders, told Popular Information.
"We don’t comment publicly on political contributions," a spokesperson for the Orlando Magic told Popular Information in response to a request for comment. Popular Information also contacted the LGBTQ advocacy groups that partnered with the Orlando Magic on Pride Night. None of the groups immediately responded.
Orlando Magic claims to support "diversity, equity & inclusion," actually supports DeSantis
The Orlando Magic touts that it supports “diversity, equity & inclusion [DEI] all year long.” At games, for example, the team honors “local leaders who have made a difference in the realm of social justice and equality” as part of its Magic Diversity Game Changers initiative. The aim of the program, the team writes, is to celebrate “those continuously doing the hard work, day in and day out, fighting for sustainable change and commit their lives to making Orlando a better place.”
In 2021, the team hosted a series of virtual town hall events that focused on DEI. One town hall, for instance, “featured the history and significance of Juneteenth and explored the African American presence in Orlando from 1865 to present.” Despite this, the team is financially supporting a presidential candidate who has made attacking DEI a central focus of his campaign.
"If you look at the way this has actually been implemented across the country, DEI is better viewed as standing for discrimination, exclusion and indoctrination," DeSantis said in a May 2023 press conference. Diversity initiatives, DeSantis says, are “discriminatory.” He signed a bill banning DEI programs at public educational institutions in Florida. In 2022, DeSantis also championed the infamous Stop WOKE Act, a law that restricts the discussion of race-related issues in the classroom and in private businesses.
This year, as part of Black History Month, the Orlando Magic also touted the league-wide theme, “Accurately Preserving History and Educating our Community.” In a press release, the team said, “[w]ithout a firm and accurate understanding of Black history communities cannot progress forward with integrity.” Following the recent release of Florida’s new social studies standards, DeSantis defended the notion that some enslaved people benefited from slavery.
The DeVos family's history of funding anti-LGBTQ activists
The Orlando Magic is owned by the DeVos family. Richard DeVos, who passed away in 2018, co-founded the direct-selling company Amway. His son Dan DeVos now "serves as chairman of the Orlando Magic and a member of the NBA Board of Governors."
The DeVos family has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to anti-LGBTQ organizations. In 2006, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation donated $540,000 to Focus on the Family, “a Colorado-based organization that stridently opposes gay marriage.” In 2008, Richard Devos “gave $100,000 to Florida4Marriage, which successfully campaigned to add a state constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.” According to ABC News, in 2009, the Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, which is financially supported by Richard DeVos’ son Doug, donated $500,000 to the National Organization for Marriage, “an anti-gay marriage group that was one of the leading advocates against same-sex marriage initiatives in eight states.” (The DeVos family did donate $400,000 to a nonprofit for the victims of the shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando.)
This is not the first time that the DeVos family has financially supported DeSantis. On October 11, 2018, DeSantis reported donations of $50,000 from each of the four DeVos children; Dan, Doug, Dick, and Cheri. The DeVos children each donated an additional $50,000 to DeSantis on November 2, 2021. In 2021, DeSantis received an additional $25,000 from Dick DeVos and $15,000 from Pamella DeVos, Dan DeVos’ wife. In 2022, DeSantis received donations of $5,500 from both Betsy and Dick DeVos and $11,000 from both Dan and Doug DeVos.
Despite their vast personal wealth, however, the DeVos family did not donate to DeSantis' Super PAC as individuals. Instead, they diverted revenue earned by the Orlando Magic to finance DeSantis' bid to become the next president.