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Disney Employees Plan All-Day Walkout Over 'Don't Say Gay' Response

Disney CEO Bob Chapek.
(Chris Jackson
Chris Jackson Collection/Getty Images for Invictus)
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Members of Disney’s LGBTQ+ staff and their allies have been staging a series of walkouts, scheduled to culminate with an all-day walkout Tuesday starting at 8 a.m.

The protests are over Disney’s response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill. Labeled by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it would restrict discussions in schools around sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill passed Florida’s legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law.

Following outrage from employees, Disney said it will pause donations to all Florida politicians as it conducts a review of its political donations. Critics have argued that the company didn't do enough to oppose the legislation and didn’t do it early enough, with criticism centered on Disney CEO Bob Chapek in particular.

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“The recent statements and lack of action by [The Walt Disney Company] 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,” organizers wrote on their website,

One reason employees on both coasts are outraged is that Disney plans to move 2,000 jobs from California to Florida, including theme parks division staff who aren’t working directly in the Disneyland parks. This includes Disney Imagineers.

The “Disney Do Better Walkout” campaign posted demands in six areas:

  • A more targeted end to political donations for politicians involved in creating or passing the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, including DeSantis, as opposed to the current “pause” on donations to all Florida politicians.
  • A plan to protect employees from “hateful legislation,” including stopping construction and investment in Florida until the legislation is repealed, not moving employees to Florida, and guaranteeing that employees won’t be terminated for refusing to relocate to Florida.
  • A reaffirmation of the company’s commitment to protect and advocate for LGBTQ+ staff, including when there is political risk in doing so.
  • Substantial contributions to the Trevor Project and other human rights advocacy groups as a sign of taking responsibility for what these employees say was a failure to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ children and their families.
  • An outline of how the company will expand its catalog to represent LGBTQ+ people, as well as including transparent reporting on its methods of including the LGBTQ+ community in creating content (in both inception and throughout the process).
  • The creation of an LGBTQ+ brand similar to “The Onyx Collective” (a Hulu initiative promoting Black creators) centered around LGBTQ+ creators and underrepresented voices.

Smaller-scale walkouts started Tuesday, March 15 with daily action scheduled during employees' 15-minute afternoon breaks. As organizers noted, staff are free to engage in these protests during their breaks, but they will not be legally protected if they choose to participate in Tuesday’s full-day walkout.
“Take your own situation into account before choosing to participate,” organizers wrote on their site.

Chapek reportedly told employees in a town hall Monday that the company made a mistake in not taking a public stance against the Florida law before it passed the state legislature, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The controversy around the Florida law is just one of the major issues Disney is currently dealing with. Others include: having to apologize after a Texas high school drill team used a racist cheer and appropriated Native American culture in a performance at Disney World; Shanghai Disney closing due to a COVID-19 surge in China; and controversy around the company not securing an Academy Award ticket for Rachel Zegler — despite her being one of the lead actresses in its Best Picture nominee West Side Story.

These events have all put Chapek under increased scrutiny, following other unpopular decisions including significant price increases and structural changes at the Disney parks. Chapek previously led the Parks division before being named as former CEO Bob Iger’s successor.

Disney divisions including Marvel Studios and Pixar have issued statements calling out the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation. ESPN staff were among those who joined in protests, including hosts drawing attention to the issue in broadcasts.

Walkout organizers have posted a list of statements from employees expressing their frustrations. They also published a petition/open letter written in partnership with LGBTQ+ community members across Disney Corporate, Disney Television Animation, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Disney Media and Entertainment Distribution, Disney Streaming, Enterprise Finance, Enterprise Technology/Global Information Security, Bento Box, and Disney Animation Studios.

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