The “Don’t Say Gay Bill” has left Disney in hot water after the company has failed to release an official statement regarding its stance on the bill. Many Disney fans, Cast Members, and allies of the LGBTQ+ community have been awaiting a response from Disney, one which has not come to light.
Disney did release a statement, however, it did not make any mention of the bill, or Disney’s stance on the subject, which left many disappointed. The statement read:
“We understand how important this issue is to our LGBTQ+ employees and many others. For nearly a century, Disney has been a unifying force that brings people together. We are determined that it remains a place where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create here and the diverse community organizations we support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community.”
Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s internal email to Cast Members, which was leaked online has now left fans are calling for him to be fired from the company. Although the email went public, this was not due to Disney wanting to release the statement as a public one, but due to the email being leaked by recipients.
On the controversial Florida bill, which was passed at the end of February and colloquially dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the NPR states:
The legislation prohibits any instruction about sexuality or gender between kindergarten and third grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Many have been looking to Disney to make a comment on the bill, pulling support to the LGBTQ+ community as well as a portion of their Cast Members who fall within the community. Bob Chapek has been at the forefront of a lot of the backlash from Disney fans for not speaking out on the bill as CEO of the company. President Joe Biden has come out stating that the bill is “hateful” on Twitter, where previous CEO Bob Iger chimed in in agreement.
When fans saw Iger take a stance and not Chapek, the fury grew stronger. It should be noted, however, that Bob Iger no longer works for the Walt Disney Company and therefore his stance is solely personal and does not affect or represent Disney in any way.
According to insider sources, Chapek is hesitant to take political sides or bring the company to these complex modern-day issues. For example, one source says Chapek balked at a proposal to weigh in on voting rights in the past, “Chapek is staunchly opposed to bringing Disney into issues he deems irrelevant to the company and its businesses,” this person says.
Many have been saddened and disappointed by the company’s public silence on this new “Don’t Say Gay” bill, especially since Walt Disney World resides in the home state of the bill. Interestingly, Disney has actually supported those who sponsored the bill. Now, it seems that Disney fans are taking a stance. There was even a protest at the gates of Walt Disney World Resort.
Now, the Orlando Sentinel noted that “The Florida Senate gave final approval Tuesday to limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, sending what critics call the “don’t say gay” bill to Gov. Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has signaled that he will sign the bill into law, saying he thinks it will shield elementary-age children from inappropriate lessons about sex.”
Disney’s employees have now spoken out with a public statement that allies and employees of the company can sign.
A Statement To Leadership From The Queer/LGBTQIA+ Employees of TWDC DMED & Their Allies
In the past couple of weeks, coverage on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Texas’ anti-trans child welfare order have been ringing in the ears of queer folk and their allies around the United States and the world. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill opens the door to silencing young queer folks and queer families in school, while Texas’ new order gives the state opportunity to investigate gender-affirming care as child abuse. During this coverage it has been brought to light the contributions that The Walt Disney Company has donated to the Florida state politicians who are sponsoring this anti-LGBTQ legislation. This has spiraled to protest marches in Florida and Burbank, calls to boycott The Walt Disney Company and their products, and a demand for a direct response from leadership.
At this point, the response from TWDC leadership has been lackluster at best and trying to play both sides at worst. Asking thousands of queer and questioning employees to wait for a DEI summit on March 22nd and April 13th is not the appropriate response, nor is promising the world that “inclusive content” will be our solution. Queer folks are used to this sort of hollow promise of allyship and inaction – the difference this time is The Walt Disney Company’s recent dedication to inclusivity and diversity.
TWDC has a long history of donations to politicians that actively try to combat our human rights, but previously TWDC did not have commitments to support this community. Now, TWDC has boldly stated that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is a pillar of the company’s mission and even introduced the fifth key of “Inclusion” to demonstrate that commitment. These keys are meant to be guiding principles for the company and its employees. The company’s lack of action seems to indicate that commitment may be as toothless as we feared it would be.
On March 2nd 2022, the TWDC’s Senior Vice President & Chief Diversity Officer, Latondra Newton, sent out a statement called “Showing support for our LGBTQ+ community” to all employees. This statement did not name the legislation in discussion, nor did it disavow its efforts. Rather the statement feigned general concern from a personal perspective – not from the company. The statement offered support through a “Reimagine Tomorrow” conversation on March 22nd – three weeks from the time the statement was sent. No disavowment. No message on if TWDC will choose to respond. No substantial action.
Although we are sure this statement was well intentioned, it failed. Our hope in having a Chief Diversity Officer would be to have that person hold the company to account, rather than release statements that toe the company line. We need an advocate, not a figurehead.
On March 7th 2022, TWDC CEO, Bob Chapek, released an additional statement reiterating Latondra Newton’s same points. He speaks to statements being weaponized and uses that as an excuse for the recent silence and lack of transparency. While we agree that statements can often be misinterpreted, silence is far worse. Without clarity, we’re all left to fill in the blanks. Additionally, adding this to his messages demonstrates defensiveness rather than leading with listening and understanding.
Chapek goes on to double down on the idea that TWDC “believe[s] the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support.” This is not an actionable plan for effecting change. While contributions to other “community organizations” are appreciated, they don’t outweigh the legislative weight of actions such as these. We are tired of being treated as a “partisan issue”. Contributing to both Republicans and Democrats does not mitigate the fact that we are being actively harmed and TWDC has a hand in it. Claiming to focus on inclusion while continuing these practices is disingenuous.
Chapek then continues to list some familiar content as examples of this “inspiring content”: “Encanto, Black Panther, Pose, Reservation Dogs, Coco, Soul, Modern Family, Shang-Chi, Summer of Soul, Love, Victor.” Out of those examples, Pose and the Love, Simon/Victor properties were acquired as a part of the 20th Century Fox acquisition and were not intentional acts by Disney to produce queer content. What’s more, it seems Bob Chapek does not understand our intersectionality as a community and believes any sort of diverse content should satisfy the whole. We are not a monolith. Grouping all diverse groups together without acknowledging our differences is offensive. Bucketing all our identities demonstrates that the company does not have a real understanding of these groups and considers us simply a large box to check. Frankly, the content that represents our community truly isn’t there and to claim that is and always has been is dishonest. The content we are represented in routinely relegates us to side characters and often simple cameos that may get cut in foreign markets.
We hope that Bob Chapek and our leadership team understands the severity of this issue. 27 states (including Florida) still allow employees to be discriminated and fired based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and 2022 is expected to have the most anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced than ever before. 7 anti-trans bills were introduced in the first week of 2022 alone. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill is the first of many and we do not want to see TWDC dragged into this debate knowing it is not reflective of our employee base, content, and DEI policy despite the ongoing political donations. This is not a partisan issue. This is not a political issue. This is our lives. The lives of our loved ones, our children, our co-workers. This is our existence.
We are writing this statement to express our disappointment in The Walt Disney Company leadership and their non-response to these issues and to clarify that WE, the Queer and LGBTQIA+ employees, and their allies, who spend their time, labor, and skills on growing profits for this company, DENOUNCE these legislative efforts and do not support any politician that is actively supporting this legislation.
We demand that The Walt Disney Company and its leadership immediately withdraw their funding of politicians who support this legislation and that they forcefully denounce these efforts as antithetical to the ethics of TWDC and its employees.
The Queer/LGBTQIA+ Employees of The Walt Disney Company DMED & Their Allies
As one can read, the statement outlines the timeline of the events regarding the bill, and Disney’s actions in correlation with has been going on. The statement is written by the DMED employees who work in entertainment and media, but extends to any Disney Cast Member or allies of the LGBTQ+ community. The statement would like funding to be withdrawn from politicians who support this legislation and that they forcefully denounce these efforts as antithetical to the ethics of TWDC and its employees.
What do you think of the ongoing controversy surrounding this bill? Should Disney do more?