Disney Apologizes for Response to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

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Disney CEO Bob Chapek apologized on Friday for the company’s response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education legislation, dubbed the “Don’t say gay” bill, and promised to stop, “all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.” 

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

The bill prevents schools from discussing gender or sexual orientation with kids in kindergarten through third grade, but the language is vague. Florida’s state legislature passed it, and it’s expected to be signed by Governor Ron DeSantis. 

Disney’s stance on the bill has evolved dramatically in response to criticism. 

Earlier this month, LGBTQ activists protested outside Disney theme parks in California and Florida, demanding the company put forth a more forceful public response. 

A statement from the company last week seemed to dodge the issue: “We understand how important this issue is to our LGBTQ+ employees and many others,” the company said. “For nearly a century, Disney has been a unifying force that brings people together. We are determined that it remains a place where everyone is treated with dignity and respect.” 

Disney apparently donated money to the sponsors of the bill, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

On Monday, Chapek sent a memo to employees reviewed by Insider explaining why it did not respond more forcefully. 

“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” the CEO said in the memo. 

“Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there. And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support,” the memo said.

It added the company would look into its stance on political donations and that it had donated to many politicians who had different positions on the bill. However, it appears that employees were discussing the issue internally even before this memo. 

LGBTQ staff at Disney, specifically its LGBTQIA+ Business Employee Resource Groups, sent a letter on February 28 to leaders at the company requesting the company make a public statement, Variety reported. 

Chapek didn’t publicly speak out against the bill until the company’s shareholder meeting Wednesday, where he said he would meet with Governor DeSantis about the legislation (DeSantis’ office told CNBC Chapek had called but no meeting had been scheduled yet). DeSantis also said he does not plan to change his position.

Chapek also pledged on Wednesday that Disney would donate $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ advocacy organizations. The HRC said Wednesday it would not accept the cash. 

“The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books,” the HRC’s statement read. 

The HRC did not respond to a request for comment as to whether it had changed its policy after Disney’s statement Friday. In that release, Chapek also promised the company would boost efforts to help advocacy groups “combat similar legislation in other states.” 

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