Disney Pauses Political Donations After Internal And Public Outrage Over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Response
Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced Friday in an internal memo that the company will pause its donations to Florida politicians. This follows outrage, both from within the company and outside, over the company’s response to Florida’s Parental Rights In Education bill — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by LGBTQ+ activists.
Chapek has been in the hot seat this week since the Florida legislature passed the bill, which is widely expected to be signed into law by conservative Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. Unless there is a surprise reversal, it will restrict teaching around sexual orientation and gender identity. Disney employees have spoken out both publicly and internally, with prominent actors who’ve appeared in Disney films, former executives, and others also sharing their frustration.
“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek wrote in an apology memo to staff Friday. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
Chapek added that he’d “missed the mark” here, but that he was an ally, vowing to speak out for his staff’s protections, visibility and opportunity going forward.
While many staff members had called for Disney to stop donating to the politicians who supported the Florida legislation, the company instead chose Friday to pause all of its political donations in the state. That includes to those who opposed the law. Disney also described it as a pause, indicating that those donations may resume at some point in the future.
Disney animation writer Ben Siemon was one of the most outspoken about the pain the company’s decisions were causing the staff more broadly, but particularly LGBTQ+ staff members. Following Disney’s Friday announcement, Siemon publicly thanked Chapek for taking action.
“We have more to do as a company in helping make Disney a place the LGBTQIA+ community can be proud of again but it’s a start,” Siemon wrote on Twitter.
This followed several tweets earlier in the day, prior to the public reporting of Chapek’s internal memo and the actions Disney said it will be taking, voicing continued frustration. This included one where he also noted that Friday would be a good day for Disney to cancel its plans to make California Imagineers and other support staff move to Florida.
Internal anger had been brewing since Disney opted not to take a public stance against the law or take other action to stop its approval as it was moving through the legislature. Multiple employees cited the company’s previous opposition to laws that affect LGBTQ+ people. Chapek has faced criticism from many Disney fans over changes he’s made since taking over, and this week saw that sentiment coming from his own staff. In an interview with LAist, Disney animation writer Madison Bateman was among those who contrasted Chapek’s actions earlier in the week with supportive moves under former Disney CEO Bob Iger.
Disney Animation released its own statement supporting staff on Friday:
To our LGBTQIA+ community in the studio and across the world, Disney Animation stands by you! We denounce any legislation that infringes on your fundamental human rights. You deserve to be safe, respected, and able to live your lives as your whole selves free from discrimination.— Disney Animation (@DisneyAnimation) March 11, 2022
Former Walt Disney Television President Garth Ancier was among the most prominent voices to call out the company and Chapek’s responses, citing his experience as an out gay executive at Disney in 1989 and the high number of gay or gay-friendly staff.
“For a CEO of The Walt Disney Company to make such a public and obvious misstep seems incredible to me,” Ancier said in a statement shared by the Wall Street Journal’s Joe Flint. “No serious CEO can be that detached from his workforce.”
There was a Zoom call with Disney employees Thursday to talk about the Florida bill, with nearly 900 staff joining the call, according to Craig Gerber, a Disney animation showrunner. Gerber said on social media that he had “never seen employees so collectively upset at upper management in over 12 years at Disney. And rightly so.”
You can read Chapek's full memo to Walt Disney Company employees below:
To my fellow colleagues, but especially our LGBTQ+ community,
Thank you to all who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company’s response to the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was. 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. I am sorry.
Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good. 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.
Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states. We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values. And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review. But, I know there is so much more work to be done. I am committed to this work and to you all, and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally. You will hear more about our progress in the coming weeks.
I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community. 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.