Walt Disney’s CEO has apologised for his “painful silence” over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and pauses all political donations to Florida.
Following extensive public backlash and numerous protests, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has eventually apologised (Friday 11 March) for the company’s silence over the Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which will ban classroom discussion about LGBT+ identities in the state’s primary schools.
Disney, one of Florida’s largest employers which operates four theme parks, dozens of hotels and holds huge political and economic sway in the state, failed to condemn the bill, which campaigners say will have devastating impact on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth and the White House has refereed to as “hateful legislation targeting vulnerable students”.
Despite the corporation publicly positioning itself as LGBTQ+ inclusive, hosting so-called ‘gay days’ at its parks and profiting off sales of Pride merchandise every year, all whilst reportedly bringing in an annual revenue of $17 billion, Disney is said to have donated money to every sponsor of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, according to the Orlando Sentinel and stayed neutral as the bill was passing through state legal proceedings.
Protests were held in schools across the state and outside Disney-owned spaces, and the controversy only continued to mount as a group of LGBT+ Pixar staff accused Disney bosses of cutting “nearly every moment” of overt same-sex affection from their movies, in a leaked letter from employees of the animation studio.
Hours after the Don’t Say Gay bill passed through senate, Chapek announced that the company would pledge $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other LGBT+ organisations.
HRC declined the donation until “meaningful action” is taken.
Finally, on Friday, company CEO Chapek told employees in a memo that he was wrong to have been silent on the bill.
However, this admission came only following public backlash and after he seemingly doubled-down on his silence, claiming earlier in the week that he believed “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and that Disney’s involvement would make it “a political football” – which, of course, is bullsh*t.
In an updated stance on the matter, Chapek decided to say:
“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,” he wrote in a company-wide email to colleagues, CNBC San Diego reported.
“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”
(read the note in full at the bottom of this article)
In response to the apology, Governor Ron DeSantis, a supporter of the bill and the person who will eventually sign it into law, told supporters at a recent rally that the company has fallen for “phony hysteria” and wants to appease angry liberals.
Meanwhile, Apple CEO Tim Cook has denounced Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill in a new social media statement.
Taking to social media, the openly gay Apple chief slammed Florida and other states enacting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
“As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am deeply concerned about laws being enacted across the country, particularly those focused on our vulnerable youth,” he said.” I stand with them and the families, loved ones, and allies who support them.”
He continued: “I have your back, and my administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”
The tweet comes as Georgia’s state Senate introduced a similar bill to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ on 9 March, called the Common Humanity in Private Education Act.
The SB 613 also seeks to ban school discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity but, unlike Florida’s bill, the legislation only targets the state’s private schools.
“No private or nonpublic school or program to which this chapter applies shall 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 to deter developmentally inappropriate classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation,” the bill reads.
As a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community, I am deeply concerned about laws being enacted across the country, particularly those focused on our vulnerable youth. I stand with them and the families, loved ones, and allies who support them.— Tim Cook (@tim_cook) March 11, 2022
Read Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s full memo below:
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. 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.
Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good. I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all.
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 so 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. You will hear more about our progress in the coming weeks.
I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community. I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on—and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.