The public response to Florida’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill has been loud and unrelenting since the overtly discriminatory legislation landed on Gov. DeSantis’ desk earlier this month, and Disney’s employees are the latest to take a stand.
After the bill passed through Florida’s House and Senate in early March, thousands of students walked out of classrooms across the state to show the widespread disapproval of the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which would restrict the discussion of sexuality and gender in Florida’s schools.
Protests continued this week, when hundreds of Walt Disney Company employees in both California and Florida held walkouts throughout the day on Tuesday, demonstrating against the company’s lack of a response to the bill, and urging Disney’s executives to take a stronger stance against the legislation.
Employees were also calling for Disney to stop making political donations to certain Florida politicians – including Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to NPR.
Protestors held signs that said “Trans rights are human rights” and “#DisneyDoBetter.” Out actress Raven-Symoné and the cast of ‘Raven’s Home’ were among the employees who participated in the walkouts in California, the LA Times reports.
When the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill first passed in Disney World’s home state of Florida, Disney CEO Bob Chapek took a notably on-the-fence stance, especially for someone who heads such a family-centric company.
“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” Chapek said in an email to staff. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”
Backlash from advocates and major companies alike was severe and swift. Disney’s three major content suppliers — Marvel, Pixar and Lucasfilm — were immediately publicly critical of the company’s handling of the situation.
At Pixar Animation Studios, LGBTQ employees and allies even sent a joint statement to Walt Disney Company leadership claiming that Disney’s executives had “actively censored ‘overtly gay affection’ in its feature films,” including in Pixar’s next feature film, “Lightyear,” according to Vanity. (The same-sex kiss has since been restored, in what advocates hope will be a genuinely positive representation of gay love in a Disney/Pixar movie.)
Since his initial non-statement, Chapek has apologized for not coming out more strongly against the bill, saying Disney officials worked behind the scenes to stop it, according to The Guardian. Disney has decided to postpone a management retreat set for next week.
The Florida Democratic Party has also moved a major fundraising event that was planned at Disney World, which had been scheduled to take place during Pride Month. The state Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz said it will “choose new dates and venues” to hold its Leadership Blue conference.
Advocates hope the continued protests will move other major companies like Disney to publicly stand against the Don’t Say Gay bill — and put pressure on DeSantis to veto the legislation, which is still waiting for his final signature before it becomes law. More than a dozen other similar pieces of legislation have been filed in at least nine states.