Disney has had their fair share of negative coverage over the fast few months, mostly revolving around their corporate political culture conflicting with that of northern Florida.
Walt Disney Co. employees at corporate locations across the U.S. got up from their desks and headed to the exits Tuesday to protest CEO Bob Chapek’s response to Florida legislation that LGBTQ advocates have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Hundreds of protesters marched outside Disney’s headquarters in Burbank on Tuesday afternoon, with some toting signs (#DisneyDoBetter) and others chanting slogans such as “Say gay!”
“It was amazing to see everyone out here in support of all of our queer employees and their families,” said Nora Rogers, a production supervisor at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Throughout the day, several Disney employees also expressed solidarity with the protesters on social media.
In recent weeks, Chapek has come under intense internal criticism and public scrutiny for not having taken a more forceful stand against HB 1557, a bill that would prohibit instruction about “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through the third grade in Florida.
Chapek drew pointed criticism for saying in a companywide memo March 7 that the corporation can make the “biggest impact” by “creating a more inclusive world through the inspiring content we produce.”
The corporation’s position on the bill appeared to be especially galling to some of the tens of thousands of Disney employees in Florida, home to the sprawling Walt Disney World theme park and resort in Orlando.
Chapek, who ascended to the throne of the Magic Kingdom in 2020, apologized directly to employees in a letter released March 11.
“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down,” Chapek said in the letter. “I am sorry.”
He also announced that the company would pause all donations to elected officials in Florida.
But the letter did not end the outcry.
LGBTQ employees started making plans for a series of protests during breaks, culminating in the general walkout Tuesday. They announced their plans on a website (whereischapek.com) and an Instagram account called disney_walkout.
“The recent statements and lack of action by TWDC [The Walt Disney Co.] leadership regarding the ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation,” the employees said.
“We have been forced into an impossible and unsustainable position. We must now take action to convince TWDC to protect employees and their families in the face of such open and unapologetic bigotry.”
Chapek tried to rectify the situation in a virtual town hall Monday, according to The Wall Street Journal, telling employees that he and other top executives were “determined to use this moment as a catalyst for more meaningful and lasting change.”
The Journal, citing people who attended the event, reported that Chapek said he and other senior leaders would go on a global listening tour of employees.
In a statement Tuesday, a Disney spokesperson said: “We know how important this issue is for our LGBTQ+ employees, their families and allies, we respect our colleagues’ respect to express their views, and we pledge our ongoing support of the LGBTQ+ community in the fight for equal rights.”
The furor underscores a new reality for corporate titans, especially in the media and entertainment industries: Employees are increasingly unafraid to push back against policies they view as offensive or wrongheaded.
The backlash has also amounted to a public relations crisis for Chapek, who is trying to navigate the corporation through the streaming revolution and pandemic-era business challenges.
Bob Iger, Chapek’s predecessor, came out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill on Feb. 24 — weeks before Chapek apologized.
In an emailed response to a list of questions, the employees behind the walkout said their main goal is stop the corporation from donating to elected officials who sponsor “weaponized and hateful legislation.”
The organizers said they expected the company to take a stand against a similar “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Georgia, a key production hub for films and television shows.
“We believe TWDC’s recent statements about their commitment to our community means that any time legislation like this comes up again, they will take a more visible stand, and we plan to hold them accountable for that,” the organizers said.
The walkout’s organizers are separate from the various business employee resource groups (BERGs, in company parlance) and Disney-sponsored Pride organizations.
In the hours before the protests, various units of the empire expressed solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
The verified Instagram account for Disney’s theme parks vowed to “oppose any legislation that infringes on basic human rights.” ESPN, the Disney-owned sports giant, tweeted in part: “We stand with our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, friends, families, and fans.”
Republican legislators in Florida who advocated for the bill have contended that parents — not teachers — should be the people talking to children about sexuality and gender issues.
Democrats argue that the bill demonizes LGBTQ people and effectively bars students from speaking freely about sexual orientation and gender identity. President Joe Biden called the bill “hateful.”
The measure has passed both houses of the Legislature and now heads to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has expressed support for it.
Of these pedophile s and perverts try protests like that in Florida …. well remember that song ” who let the dogs out”.
Oh boo-hoo! Go back to California where they seem to LOVE that junk Disney TRIED to force on people and now it’s BACKFIRING on them big time…May Disney go BANKRUPT!
I Agree, send them packing, Straight is the only way. No More Gay, allowed in this world.
I’m pretty sick of them trying to change our country into a pornographic and disgusting country! Disney is guilty of pushing these labels into people! I didn’t care what individuals do, quit pushing it in us normal people!
Serously? Find me a school system that teaches heterosexual sex-ed to five year olds. Why is this LGBT stuff any different? Why not let 6 year olds drive? We are dying them their freedom and rights!
How about these woke lunatics actually read the bill? There’s absolutely NOTHING in it against gays. It’s a bill against sexual indoctrination of any kind ( including heterosexual) for minors.
I am reading all of the comments on here and there is just as much hate. SHAME ON BOTH SIDES!
I am a gay man and I absolutely agree with you all that are against Disney that the lifestyle should NOT be in a small childs movie. This is a subject that SHOULD be taught by parents when and if the child is ready NOT Disney nor schools.
As for the morons calling us all pedophiles you are clearly as ignorent as a liberal. NOT ALL OF US follow the ways the LGBTQ feel nor do we conduct our lives that present the typical stereotype that doesn’t respresent many of us. We happen to be the professionals keeping you healthy, attending to your legal needs, and other professionals. Knock it off! Be part of the solution not add to the problem.
We get you are upset and it upsets many of us but quit throwing the rest of us into the pot that side with you. Children should NOT have their purity and innocense taken away. When they are older as young adults or adults they can make that decision.
Many happen to be on your side whether you agree with the lifestyle or not. You people commenting sound as bad as those as the Salem witch trials.
Well said and understood; everyone IS entitled to their own opinions and ideology, however “everyone” is NOT allowed, nor entitled, to force their own opinions and ideology on anyone, or everyone else.
Well said. In my experience, most gay people have the same beliefs as straight people when it comes to over sexualizing children — and many other issues. This is not a gay vs. straight matter. But it is an important issue because when a minority of people force their will on the majority, we are no longer a republic, but a fascist society.
Chapek and LGBTQ Disney employees can protest all they want; they are simply contributing to the total demise of Disney World. American parents have spoken-they will no longer take their children to Disney World and spend their hard earned money on Disney’s “wokeness”. As for me, I will no longer take my grandchildren there and will discourage them against taking their own children there. Disney will fold and disappear, OR will regain their moral senses. I doubt the latter will ever happen so these protesters are simply working themselves out of a job. Obviously, they have not thought that far ahead – – yet.