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Disney CEO apologizes for silence on ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

Disney CEO apologizes for silence on ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

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‘I let you down. I am sorry.’

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Facing a tidal wave of backlash following Disney’s failure to speak out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek formally apologized to employees today for the company’s failure to support its queer community. 

In an internal memo, Chapek addressed widespread criticism of Disney’s witting silence in response to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed recently by Florida’s Senate. The message was addressed to all Disney employees, “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,” Chapek wrote. “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.”

The apology follows a chaotic week for the head of Disney, who previously told employees that Disney would not respond to the bill publicly despite operating a massive business empire in the state. The Parental Rights in Education, as it’s formally named, prohibits educators from discussing “sexual orientation or gender identity” with students at certain grade levels and would allow parents to bring legal action against school districts whose educators address them.

Disney is also pausing all political donations in Florida while it reassess its giving framework

Earlier this week, Chapek had written employees that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” adding that “the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support.” The claim that Disney supports the community with its storytelling was quickly shot down by critics and employees who pointed out that Disney censors queer representation in its films and series, particularly in Pixar productions.  

The fallout from Chapek’s initial response was swift, with the company facing criticism that it had failed not only the LGBTQ+ community but specifically its employees and families in Florida who may be directly impacted by the bill. 

In a memo sent to Disney’s leadership before the bill passed Florida’s Senate, Disney employees had requested that the company take a stand against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and anti-LBGTQ+ bills in other states. As one of Florida’s largest employers, they wrote, and “one currently relocating even more employees to the state, it is the Company’s utmost responsibility to protect these individuals.” The memo was obtained and published by Variety yesterday.

In his apology to employees today, Chapek wrote that the company will increase its support for groups working to combat similar legislation in other states. Disney is also pausing all political donations in Florida while the company creates “a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values.” Many critics of Disney’s response to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill were quick to point to the company’s financial contributions to legislators who championed the bill. 

Read Chapek’s full memo 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.

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