Disney CEO Comes Out against Florida LGBT Education Bill, Will Meet with DeSantis to Air Concerns

Left: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during CPAC in Orlando, Fla., February 26, 2021. Right: Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek speaks at the Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon in Boston, Mass., November 15, 2021.

(Joe Skipper, Katherine Taylor/Reuters)

Disney CEO Bob Chapek and concerned company executives reportedly plan to meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to meet to air their concerns about Florida’s recently passed Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits gender ideology and sexual orientation curriculum for kindergartners through third graders in the state.

DeSantis is expected to sign the bill into law in the coming days after it passed the state legislature on Tuesday. Chapek told The Hollywood Reporter that he voiced his and his colleagues’ concerns to DeSantis Wednesday morning over the phone, and said that the governor agreed to a follow-up conversation.

“…While we have been strong supporters of the community for decades, I understand that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill. We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle,” Chapek said at the company’s annual shareholder meeting Wednesday.

“We were hopeful that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers could lead to a better outcome. Ultimately, we were unsuccessful,” Chapek said. “I called Governor DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law, it could be unfairly used to target gay lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families. The Governor heard our concerns, and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address them.”

After Disney received backlash internally for its lack of response on the bill, Chapek told staff Monday that the company “unequivocally” stands with its LGBTQ+ employees.

“I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company — and world,” Chapek wrote in a memo to staff obtained by the The Hollywood Reporter.

“We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. 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,” he added.

Disney had come under fire for its past political donations, some of which were funneled to state Republican elected officials who backed the bill. Chapek noted in his statement that Disney’s new chief corporate affairs officer, Geoff Morrell, would be “reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world — including political giving — as he begins to integrate the communications, public policy, government relations and CSR teams.” He said Wednesday that Disney would pledge $5 million to LGBTQ organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign.

Among the largest companies in the world, Disney has outsized influence on Florida government. Last spring, the Florida state legislature passed a content moderation bill that would penalize social media companies that suspend the accounts of politicians or censor certain political content, but Disney secured a special carveout. The text included an exemption for “any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex.”

While Disney has been a vocal advocate of LGBTQ rights, it caters to a large market in China, a growing geopolitical adversary notorious for human rights abuses, including a genocide in Xinjiang, the suppression of the Hong Kong democracy movement, atrocities in Tibet, as well as antagonism toward Taiwan. Disney has a record of kowtowing to China and pulling or pressuring the removal of content that might offend its communist regime.

While progressive teachers, Democrats, and activists have decried the bill, claiming that it will have a chilling effect on education and prevent elementary schoolers from expressing their unique gender identities or sexual orientations, the language pertains explicitly to classroom instruction and teaching material.

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