Employees of the Walt Disney Company are calling for the most magical place on Earth to fight harder to defend equal rights for the LGBTQ community.
On Tuesday, March 22, they escalated their demonstration by staging a day-long walkout from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. linked to a list of demands for their employer, including that it stop funding lawmakers who back Florida’s nicknamed “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The company’s LGBTQ workers and allies have been protesting its response to the controversial legislation for weeks. Passed by state senators on March 8—and now sitting on Governor Ron DeSantis’s desk—the bill, formally called “Parental Rights in Education,” limits discussion of topics related to gender identity and orientation in school classrooms. While the bill’s language is purposefully broad, it could mean scrubbing classrooms of books or lesson plans that feature LGBTQ characters or historical figures, or even that students with gay parents or family members would be forbidden from mentioning them.
With the bill currently in limbo, employees at Walt Disney’s Orlando resorts argue that their employer—which has a mammoth economic footprint in Florida—can and should do more to safeguard the rights of its LGBTQ workers. When Don’t Say Gay first began to grab headlines, Disney chief executive Bob Chapek didn’t say anything at all; then when he finally spoke on the issue, he failed to unequivocally condemn the bill. After his early silence was criticized, Chapek apologized and claimed that Disney leaders were opposed to the bill from the start, but opted not to take a public stance “because we thought we could be more effective working behind-the-scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
Disney has since pledged to donate $5 million to LGBTQ advocacy groups, and Chapek contacted Governor DeSantis’s office directly to oppose the bill. But critics, as well as workers who felt abandoned by the company, say it’s too little, too late. They’ve also pointed to the fact that although Disney movies celebrate diversity in all its forms, the company itself has donated nearly $200,000 in the past two years to politicians who voted yes to Don’t Say Gay, including a couple of its sponsors. The first item among protesters’ demands is that Disney immediately cease all funding to those politicians’ campaigns:
The LGBTQIA+ workers and allies at The Walt Disney Company are standing in solidarity together over the coming weeks. Here is our open statement and website.https://t.co/hdvFds7Bw6
Petition: https://t.co/B6OWRGmlTF#DisneyDoBetter #DisneySayTrans #DisneySayGay #WhereIsChapek pic.twitter.com/uhQLMl5FJG
— Disney Walkout (@DisneyWalkout) March 14, 2022
A second item demands that Disney halt construction and investment in Florida “until hateful legislation is repealed,” and end efforts to relocate workers to Florida offices.
Other demands require that the company publicly commit to advocating for its LGBTQ staff, “even in the face of political risk. This must include full transparency into political and organizational contributions.” The list also asks that Disney “take responsibility for their inaction” by making substantial contributions to human rights advocacy groups “in an effort to regain our trust in the company’s inclusion and equality efforts.”