Disney has long taken a progressive stance toward gay marriage and LGBTQIA+ issues. In the 1990s, before the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationwide, The Walt Disney Company offered gay and lesbian employees insurance for their partners.
This year saw The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek promise Disney Cast Members and fans that the company would stand firm in support of the LGBTQIA+ community. In February, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis introduced the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Fans and Cast Members led protests around the country after public records revealed that Disney had donated to many politicians who sponsored the bill.
Disney released a statement on March 3 but didn’t directly mention the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which was later passed into law. Fans again asked Chapek to condemn the anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation, and Pixar staff wrote The Walt Disney Company a letter asking the company to take a stronger stance against the bill.
One day later, Chapek called DeSantis to tell him that Disney did not support the bill, which was later passed. Disney also promised to pause political donations in Florida after donating $4.8 million to Florida campaign funds in 2020.
DeSantis said he warned Disney not to get involved in the Florida controversy, later introducing legislation to dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. The bill later passed, meaning Walt Disney World Resort will not be in control of its own municipal services as of next year.
Other conservative Republican politicians like Senator Josh Hawley and Senator Marco Rubio publicly attacked Disney for its stance on the law and refusal to censor a gay kiss in Pixar’s Lightyear (2022). President Joe Biden joked that right-wing politicians wanted to “storm Cinderella Castle.”
But Disney hasn’t always been willing to stand firm in the face of conservative protest. In the 1990s, the inaugural Gay Days hit Walt Disney World Resort – thousands of members of the LGBTQIA+ community held an unofficial meetup at Magic Kingdom. This led to conservative protests.
Of course, Disney couldn’t ban Guests from its Parks due to their sexuality, instead opting to install a sign warning Guests of a “gathering of homosexuals” at Magic Kingdom on one Gay Day, according to a 2000 report by The Ledger.
Later, Disney officials decided to embrace the event. The former Pleasure Island nightclub at Downtown Disney (now Disney Springs) held official events in June for Gay Days and Pride Month, and Disney allowed organizers to rent Typhoon Lagoon for a private Gay Days event.
Gay Days has spread to SeaWorld Orlando, Universal Orlando Resort, Universal Studios Hollywood, and Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. Protests by groups like the Christian Action Network have dwindled since the late 1990s and early 2000s, but many Christian and Republican groups still condemn the event and other Disney Pride celebrations. In 2013, a right-wing action group flew a banner over Walt Disney World Resort warning Guests about “Gay Days.”
The Ledger spoke to Rena Callahan, a Disney spokesperson, in 2000, asking if the Disney Parks would be more accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community as time went on:
“I don’t know if it’s a more accepting attitude, but our parks are open to everyone, every day,” Callahan said. “We want to be hospitable to everyone who visits our parks.”
22 years later, The Walt Disney Company has come a long way in accepting and welcoming all Guests.