JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Disney has been the subject of controversy after being noticeably quiet as Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, heads to the governor's desk, until now.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek reportedly expressed his disapproval to Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday morning. On Thursday, he issued a statement to employees that was later made public, expressing support for the LGBTQ+ community.
The bill, would ban curriculum related to sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The bill passed the Florida senate on Tuesday.
As the bill continued to progress, fueling further controversy, many online were wondering why Disney had not made a statement since the media company has strong roots in the state.
On Feb. 24, former Disney CEO Robert Iger, spoke out against the legislation.
As Disney employs 80,000 people in Florida, there was growing pressure from employees and fans alike for the company to publicly condemn the bill.
Furious tweets aimed mainly at Chapek, using the hashtags #DisneyDoBetter and #DisneySayGay, flooded the timeline and urged the company to speak out.
Disney animation writer, Benjamin Siemon, posted a video recalling a story from his childhood of when a teacher helped him to accept himself.
After expressing his love for the company, Siemon went on to explain how Disney's lack of response, as well as donations to sponsors of the bill, sends a negative message.
Disney fans expressed their discomfort with the perceived silence from the company. One Twitter user wrote, "This mug feels gross now", in a tweet with photos of a Disney mug featuring pride colors.
In his memo, Chapek said he met with "a small group of Disney LGBTQ+ leaders" to discuss the potential impact's of the bill.
The CEO did not take a hard stance on the bill in the memo, but he did try and explain the strategy of staying silent. Chapek said that corporate statements “do very little to change outcomes or minds” and instead are “often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame", as reported by the Los Angles Times.
Instead of smoothing over the situation, the internal message seemed to cause a larger rift between the company and it's employees.
Dana Terrace, the creator of Disney's animated series "The Owl House," posted an emotional video about the email that she said was sent company-wide
Terrace said in the video that while Disney would not stop donating to sponsors of the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, the company did offer “flowery and compassionate words to shut you up”.
The creator went on to read aloud from the email directly.
"I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce and the diverse organizations we support," she quoted.
Terrace then explained her own struggles accepting her queerness and remarked on how distressing the whole ordeal had been.
Abigail Disney, a granddaughter of one of Disney’s founders, spoke up about the company's response to the legislation.
She claimed in a Twitter thread that the company isn't actually "anti-gay" but rather "pro-business", causing them to look the other way.
“While we’ve been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” said Chapek, during a virtual shareholder meeting.
"We were opposed to the bill from the outset, and we chose not to take a public position because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
The CEO told shareholders that he had called Gov. DeSantis that morning to express the company's "disappointment and concern."
If the legislation were to become law, it "could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families," Chapek said.
Chapek went on to say that Gov. DeSantis agreed to meet with him and LGBTQ+ members of Disney's senior teams to address their concerns.
Finally, the CEO told shareholders that the company would donate $5 million to organizations working to protect LGTBQ+ rights and would sign the Human Rights Campaign's statement against similar bills around the United States, CNN reported.
The Human Rights Campaign issued a statement responding to Chapek's comments on Wednesday, stating they would not accept any money from the company "until meaningful action is taken."
"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."
Composer Alan Menken, known for his scores in Disney films, expressed his opinion on Thursday. He said he "strongly opposes" the bill and expressed hope that his friends at Disney would use their voices as well.
While Menken's tweet had a more optimistic tone, many on social media seemed to echo the sentiment "too little, too late" after Chapek's comments and the hashtag #BoycottDisney gained traction on Twitter.
One user wrote, "@Disney wants Gay money but doesn’t care if gay kids die. I am ashamed of you, @disneyplus @DisneyStudios. Cancelling my Disney accounts, cancelling plans to visit the parks this year, buying zero Disney merch. #BoycottDisney #DisneySayGay #DisneyDoBetter #BoycottDisneyPlus"
Gov. DeSantis also had a response to Disney on Wednesday.
His press secretary, Christina Pushaw, quoted him as saying, "How do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China? Because that’s what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don’t say a word about the really brutal practices at the hands of the CCP.
Companies that have made a fortune catering to families should understand that parents don't want this injected into their kid’s kindergarten classroom. Our policies will be based on the best interest of Florida citizens, not the musing of woke corporations."
Pushaw herself previously dubbed the bill an "Anti-Grooming Bill" in response to the nickname "Don’t Say Gay".
She then fired back at critics, calling them groomers if they opposed the legislation.
On Thursday, Chapek sent another memo to employees expressing support for the LGBTQ+ Community. The email was later made public on The Walt Disney Company's website.
In the message, Chapek apologized for the way responded to the bill.
"You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry," the CEO wrote.
In addition to expressing both support and regret to the community, the email also said that the company would be increasing support for advocacy groups to fight against similar legislation in other states.
Disney will also be "pausing all political donations in the state of Florida", according to the statement.
Chapek finished the message by saying, "I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on—and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve."
As it stands now, the Parental Rights in Education bill has passed the senate and awaits Gov. DeSantis' signature.
If the bill is signed, it would go into effect on July 1.