DeSantis attacks Disney over ties to China after CEO speaks out against ‘Don’t Say Gay’

Florida Republicans have accepted tens of thousands of dollars from Disney entities

Alex Woodward
New York
Friday 11 March 2022 01:27 GMT
Disney to meet with DeSantis to stop ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, CEO says

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, one day after the Walt Disney Company’s chief executive publicly rebuked the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation heading to the governor’s desk, has accused the corporate giant of “lining their pockets” with support from China.

Florida’s Republican legislators – including the governor and two chief sponsors of the legislation – have accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Disney entities.

The Independent’s review of state campaign finance records found that Disney entities donated tens of thousands of dollars to Florida legislators who supported the bill, including at least $4,000 to the 2022 re-election campaigns for the bill’s chief sponsors, state Representative Joe Harding and state Senator Dennis Baxley.

Disney also donated at last $50,000 to the governor’s political action committee in 2021.

Proponents of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill have repeatedly claimed that the legislation does not target LGBT+ students or families but instead gives parents more control over their children’s instruction, joining a nationwide “parents’ rights” campaign bolstering GOP legislation against perceived critical race theory instruction and transgender athletes.

But the governor’s office has repeatedly claimed that the measure bans “transgenderism” or discussions of “sex” and “gender theory,” none of which is in the bill, which prohibits instruction of “sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through the third grade and any such discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades.

Meanwhile, members of his staff have called legislation an “anti-grooming” bill, reviving anti-LGBT+ attacks conflating LGBT+ education with paedophilia.

“We’re not going to allow them to inject transgenderism into kindergarten,” Governor DeSantis said in a video obtained by Fox News on 10 March. “First graders shouldn’t have ‘woke’ gender ideology imposed in their curriculums.”

He added: “When you have companies that have made a fortune off being family friendly and catering to families and young kids, they should understand that parents of young kids do not want this injected into their kids’ kindergarten classroom. They do not want their first graders to go and be told that they can choose an opposite gender.”

Companies like Disney, he said, who “criticise the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten and first grade classrooms, if that’s the hill that they’re gonna to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the communist party of China?”

“They don’t say a word about the really brutal practices that you see over there at the hands of the CCP,” he said.

Disney has faced numerous controversies for its connections in China, including its Shanghai Disney Resort that opened in 2016, and criticism for filming parts of the live-action Mulan film in Xinjiang province, where human rights abuses are alleged against the Uyghur people.

For weeks, Disney employees and LGBT+ advocates have demanded that the company – which carries massive political weight in Florida – leverage its influence to publicly lobby against the legislation, which opponents warn will endanger the lives of LGBT+ young people and have a chilling effect on LGBT+ schoolchildren and their families as well as classroom instruction and lessons on LGBT+ people and issues.

On 9 March, one day after the state’s Senate passed the bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he talked with the governor “to express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.”

“Governor DeSantis committed to me that he wanted to make sure that this law could not be weaponised in any way … to unduly harm or target [LGBT+] kids and families,” Mr Chapek said. “He suggested what we could do is take a look at the legislation as written … and come up with ideas and concerns of specific aspects of this legislation that could lead to … the weaponisation of it.”

Following his remarks, the governor’s office issued a statement saying his position “has not changed” and that no in-person meeting has yet been scheduled.

On Thursday, the governor told a group of supporters that “the chance that I am going to back down from my commitment to students, and back down from my commitment to parents’ rights, simply because of fraudulent media narratives or pressure from woke corporations – the chances of that are zero.”

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