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Disney CEO apologizes to LGBTQ employees, halts political donations in Florida

Disney has faced criticism over neutral stance to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

illustration featuring glitchy digital Disney logo Illustration: James Bareham/Polygon
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek apologized to LGBTQ employees over the company’s response on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, Variety reported Friday. Over the past week, Disney has been criticized for taking a neutral stance toward the controversial bill in emails with employees and for making political donations to the bill’s supporters. Prominent Disney creators, like The Owl House creator Dana Terrace, and the Animation Guild released statements condemning Disney’s inaction. Disney’s employees, too, criticized the company internally.

“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” Chapek said in an email published by Variety. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

An internal memo from Chapek reported on on Monday said the company would “unequivocally” support its LGBTQ employees after the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed the Florida House of Representatives. The legislation, which is called the Parental Rights in Education bill, aims to prohibit instruction “by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity” before fourth grade “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

On Wednesday, Chapek said he had called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to “express [Disney’s] disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender kids and families.” During an investor’s call on Wednesday, Chapek expressed dismay over the bill, saying that Gov. DeSantis was open to “conversation” and had committed to him that the law “could not be weaponized [...] to unduly harm or target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, or transgender kids and families.”

Chapek said Disney was rethinking how it approaches political donations on Wednesday; on Friday, he said the company would pause them altogether pending an internal review. However, Disney will increase its “support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states,” Chapek said.

“Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good,” Chapek wrote in Friday’s email to employees. “I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all.”

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in Florida’s Senate on Tuesday. If Gov. DeSantis signs the bill, it’s slated to take effect July 1.

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