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‘How dare they’: Florida Republican claims Disney ‘bullying’ GOP after CEO suspends donations over ‘Don’t Say Gay’

GOP officials criticise company after corporate giant and political heavyweight publicly opposes bill and pauses campaign contributions

Alex Woodward
New York
Saturday 12 March 2022 17:54 GMT
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Florida official claims Disney 'bullying' Republicans over 'Don't Say Gay' bill

Florida’s lieutenant governor has accused the Walt Disney Company of trying to “bully” Republican officials after CEO Bob Chapek announced the company – a political heavyweight in the state – will freeze political donations in the state following outrage over what critics have called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.

“They will try to bully us like the NCAA did, like Disney doing,” she told Fox News personality Laura Ingraham on 11 March. “How dare they. They have no right to criticise legislation by duly elected legislators that are passing common-sense legislation.”

Ms Nunez is among dozens of Florida officials to receive campaign donations from the company.

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 $50,000 to a political action committee tied to Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021.

Disney entities also donated $4,000 to the 2022 re-election campaigns for the bill’s chief sponsors, state Representative Joe Harding and state Senator Dennis Baxley.

Between 2017 and 2018, Ms Nunez’s campaign received at least $5,000 from Disney entities.

On 11 March, Mr Chapek announced that the company would “immediately” begin supporting efforts to combat similar legislation in other states and will pause “all political donations” in the state pending a review of the company’s political giving, conceding that the company failed to “be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights”.

For weeks, Disney employees and LGBT+ advocates have demanded that the company – which touts its LGBT+ advocacy and media representation – leverage its massive influence to publicly lobby against the legislation, which opponents warn will marginalise and endanger the lives of LGBT+ young people and chill discussion of such topics and issues in classrooms.

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

It also allows parents to sue chool districts if they believe the measure has been violated.

Governor DeSantis does not intend to veto the measure.

On Thursday, after Mr Chapek publicly announced opposition to the bill, the governor lashed out at Disney and “pressure from ‘woke’ corporations” – as well as a “fraudulent media narrative” that he claims has mischaracterised the legislation.

Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez, pictured at the 2020 Republican National Convention, has criticised the Walt Disney Company for objecting to what opponents call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation supported by GOP legislators. (AFP via Getty Images)

He also accused the company of “lining their pockets” with support from China.

On Friday, Ms Nunez claimed that “feckless CEOs of woke corporations are too busy bowing down to the altar of the [Chinese Communist Party].”

“Governor DeSantis and I won’t stand for it,” she said.

Proponents of the bill have accused critics of deliberately mischaracterising it, or have compared it restrictions on sex education, or have suggested that the bill’s opponents support “grooming” children, reviving homophobic and transphobic attacks conflating LGBT+ identities with paedophilia.

The governor says the bill “sensibly prohibits” grade school children from “being indoctrinated with transgenderism and R-rated lessons about sexuality” – none of which is in the text of the bill. Governor DeSantis and other bill backers claim that the bill only involves students in those grades, but the bill’s language extends to classroom instruction in other grades that is not deemed “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

Kindergarten through third grade students do not learn sex ed. The bill’s critics argue that the broad language in the legislation forbids learning about students’ LGBT+ families, for example.

Multiple amendments from Democratic legislators to clarify the bill’s intent – including expressly prohibiting teaching about “sexual activity” to young children – were defeated by Republicans.

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