Disney CEO faces fallout over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Arianne Gonzalez, Arts & Culture Editor

Employees of The Walt Disney Company held a walk on March 22 to protest CEO Bob Chapek’s blundered remarks with Florida’s controversial Parental Rights in Education Bill, also called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The bill, which was passed by the Florida House of Representatives and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 29, has been criticized for its anti-LGBTQI+ language and implications. When effective, it would ban “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida public schools, according to NBC News.

Chapek came under fire for initially declining to publicly condemn the bill. In an email to company staff, he wrote that Disney leadership “unequivocally” stands with LGBTQI+ employees, but there are “more effective ways” to take a stand against the bill, according to CNN.

Chapek replaced Bob Iger for the chief executive role in late February 2020. He has worked in the company for nearly 30 years, holding various roles such as chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Product and president of Distribution for The Walt Disney Studios.

Employees and other critics have condemned Chapek’s lacking response. Employees from studios within The Walt Disney Company such as Lucasfilm Limited LLC, Walt Disney Animation Studios, Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Parks held walkouts across the country. The walkout was also supported by celebrities on social media.

“‘We don’t talk about Bruno: We DO talk about LGBTQ+ rights!’ All of us, ALL of us,” LinManuel Miranda, the creator of “Hamilton: An American Musical” and songwriter of the Academy Award-winning Disney film “Encanto,”  tweeted.

An open letter and petition were also created to protest Chapek’s remarks, asking the company to pause campaign donations to politicians involved with the bill and reaffirming Disney’s commitment to protecting LGBTQ+ employees and staff.

“To ALL who come to this happy place, welcome. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products is committed to creating experiences that support family values for every family, and will not stand for discrimination in any form,” Walt Disney World said in a statement posted on its Instagram page. “We oppose any legislation that infringes on basic human rights, and stand in solidarity and support our LGBTQIA+ cast, crew, guests and fans who make their voices heard today and every day.”

Chapek has since apologized for his initial response, directly apologizing to LGBTQI+ employees and announcing that Disney will pause political donations in Florida in a company email.

The bill has been the subject of national and international focus. Disney-owned companies like Hulu, FX and ESPN have also voiced their objection against the bill.

Critics of the bill have said the bill is too vague and it could mean harm to LGBTQ+ youth, according to NPR. Supporters of the bill argued that it does not explicitly prohibit the use of the word “gay” in schools.

The White House has also condemned the bill, calling it a law that is “designed to attack LGBTQI+ kids.”

“I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are,” President Joe Biden tweeted. “I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve.”