Disney workers stage daily walkouts to protest ‘Don’t Say Gay’ and demand protections for LGBT+ staff

CEO’s statements ‘utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat’ in Florida legislation, workers say

Alex Woodward
New York
Wednesday 16 March 2022 20:57 GMT
Disney to meet with DeSantis to stop ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, CEO says

The Walt Disney Company’s LGBT+ employees and company workers opposed to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation are staging daily walkouts to protest the bill and pressure Disney to indefinitely cease all campaign donations to state officials who created or helped pass the measure.

Protesting workers also demand that Disney leadership publicly commit to an actionable plan that protects employees from anti-LGBT+ legislation, among other demands urging the company to bolster its support for LGBT+ people and their families. The actions culminate in a full workday walkout or “sick out” on 22 March.

For weeks, Disney employees and LGBT+ advocates have demanded that the company – Florida’s largest private employer and a political heavyweight – leverage its influence to publicly lobby against the legislation, which opponents warn will marginalise and endanger the lives of LGBT+ young people in Florida’s schools.

Following reports from The Independent and other news organisations revealing Disney donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican legislators and state officials who supported the bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that the company was “pausing” all political donations in the state.

“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” he said in a statement to staff last week. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

The “Parental Rights in Education” bill – named “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents – prohibits classroom 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.

Mr Chapek’s remarks and company statements “have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation,” according to a statement from protesting workers.

“As a community, we have been forced into an impossible and unsustainable position,” they wrote. “We must now take action to convince [Disney] to protect employees and their families in the face of such open and unapologetic bigotry.”

Disney has repeatedly touted its LGBT+ advocacy and high marks as a LGBT+ friendly workplace, but 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 a political action committee tied to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021.

In a staff memo issued hours before Florida’s Republican-controlled Senate debated the bill before its final passage, Mr Chapek said that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and are instead “weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”

He said the company’s films and programmes “are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort.”

Following its passage, Mr Chapek announced during a shareholders’ meeting that he sought a meeting between the governor and the company’s LGBT+ leadership to ensure that the measure is not “weaponised in any way … to unduly harm or target [LGBT+] kids and families.”

Governor DeSantis does not intend to veto the measure. His administration and other Republican officials have lashed out at Disney and “woke corporations” after Mr Chapek publicly announced his opposition to the bill.

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