Right-wing demonstrations outside of Disney World tried to block one of the park’s entrances and amplified baseless conspiracy theories that the Walt Disney Company and its parks promote pedophila, part of a growing conservative backlash to the corporate giant’s opposition to what opponents have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law.
A small rally outside the gates on 16 April featured a costumed Mickey Mouse wearing a “MAGA” shirt and “Make America Great Again” hat, among several Donald Trump-supporting slogans and memes, including calls to “stop election fraud” alongside signs promoting Governor Ron DeSantis and his “DeSantisland.”
Protesters also pinned a “Pedo World” sign to the Disney entrance; livestream coverage of the rally captured a person walking through the small crowd to rip it down.
A self-described “Patriot Convoy” – echoing the “trucker protests” against Covid-19 restrictions and other far-right grievances – also staged an unsuccessful “blockade” to stop visitors from entering the park, though there were several ways to get inside.
Following weeks of urging from LGBT+ advocates and opponents of the bill, the company – the state’s largest private employer – announced its opposition to the legislation, after the state’s Republican-dominated legislature passed the bill to the governor’s desk.
Florida’s bill – which was signed into law on 28 March – broadly prohibits classroom instruction “on sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through third grade or “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards” in other grades.
The law also states that parents may “bring an action against a school district to obtain a declaratory judgment” and a court may award damages and attorney’s fees for perceived violations, which opponents argue will open teachers and schools to spurious lawsuits that chill classroom speech among LGBT+ students and teachers.
It does not define “instruction” or age appropriateness, potentially leaving its interpretation open to bans on discussing LGBT+ people, history and events, or students’ families, or questions from students about any of those issues.
A group of Florida LGBT+ advocacy groups and civil rights attorneys have filed a lawsuit to block the Florida law, while Republican officials in at least a dozen other states have floated similar proposals.
Proponents of the measure have broadly smeared LGBT+ people and critics of the law as supporting the “grooming” of students and characterised their political opponents as “pedophiles”, threading child trafficking allegations rampant among QAnon communities to Disney and opposition to the law.
One demonstrator told a local ABC affiliate that he believes Disney is preying on school-aged children.
“I don’t think kids should be learning about sexuality or gender until they’re a certain age,” Adam Francisco told the network. “And it should be up to the parents and the parents’ side. And if the teachers are going to do it, it should be parental approval.”
Sex education is not taught in kindergarten through third grade classrooms; the Florida law does not mention sex education, despite several attempts from Florida legislators to narrowly tailor the bill, which were repeatedly shot down. Critics have argued that vague and broad parameters of the bill will block students and teachers in those grades from being able to discuss their LGBT+ families, events or other issues involving LGBT+ people and history.
Republican legislators have also looked at punishing Disney by repealing its governing arrangement with the state, while Governor Ron DeSantis is focused on a broader effort to strip the company of what he called “special privileges.”
Florida state Rep Anthony Sabatini, who promised to make life for the company “living hell” through government action after opposing the law, also attended the rally on 16 April to protest what he called the company’s “creepy, perverted agenda which includes the sexualization of children.”
“This woke communism [and] corporate tyranny will not stand,” he said.
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