In response to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing HB 1557 — the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — into law on Monday, Disney issued its most direct critical response to the legislation yet — the latest development in the company’s recent history of apologetically backtracking after its own financial contributions to the bill’s architects first came to light.
Despite its role in the bill’s path to DeSantis’ desk, Disney said in a press release that its “goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”
Though Disney’s one of the largest employers in the state of Florida, where tens of thousands of people work across Disney’s various parks, resorts, and other divisions based in the state, DeSantis seemingly hit back at the megacorporation later on Monday, claiming that “people in Hollywood that are opposed to providing protections for parents and enforcing parents’ rights.”
“If the people who held up degenerates like Harvey Weinstein as exemplars and as heroes, if those are the types of people and all that are opposing us on parents’ rights, I wear that like a badge of honor,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis followed his initial statements up on Tuesday by doubling down in his defense of the bill and accused Disney of having “crossed the line” with its “fundamentally dishonest” opposition. DeSantis reasoned that because Disney markets products to children, the company should want to support the “substantive protections for parents” supposedly written into the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The governor also accused Disney of not being genuine in its current stance against the bill, pointing to the fact that the company hasn’t directly contacted certain members of the Florida legislature as evidence.
“I talked to the speaker of the [Florida] House yesterday afternoon, and he said Disney never called him when they were putting this [bill] through the house,” DeSantis said. “They [Disney] didn’t seem to have a problem with it when it was going through. If this was such an affront, why weren’t they speaking up at the outset?”
As Deadline points out, Governor DeSantis spoke directly with Disney CEO Bob Chapek weeks ago about the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, back when it was still making its way through Florida’s House of Representatives and Senate. Because the details of DeSantis and Chapek’s conversation haven’t been made public, there’s no way to know precisely what the men spoke about. But regardless of whether Disney as a corporate entity had a problem with its involvement in the progression of the Don’t Say Gay bill at the time, that changed as more of the general public and Disney’s own employees began voicing their concerns about how the soon-to-be law could hurt queer people.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill explicitly bars teachers from talking to primary school-age children about sexuality and gender identity even though neither of those topics is currently a part of any standardized curriculum in Florida’s public schools. In the buildup to the bill’s passage, its opponents pointed out that because it’s not addressing a specific part of any curriculum, it’s all but guaranteed to lead to a broader array of policies that make schools less safe and welcoming. While DeSantis and other supporters of the bill have repeatedly attempted to frame it as legislation meant to empower parents, their history of accusing the bill’s opponents of being child groomers is a telling indicator of how the conservative participants in this political project are knowingly evoking the specter of child abuse as a means of attacking their enemies.
Given the “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s passage and DeSantis’ full-throated defense of it, it’s easy to understand why someone might not see Florida as being the ideal place for them to live or work. Those concerns may only be becoming clear to people who don’t live in Florida or other states where similar bills are currently making their way through the local legislature. But they have been on the minds of Disney’s queer and ally employees, who recently organized a week of digital walkouts in protest of the company’s connection to the bill and refusal to explicitly state what steps it plans to take in the future to avoid similar situations.
As Disney initially struggled to find a stance it wanted to take in the matter, the walkout’s participants made clear that their commitment to pushing the company to do right by them isn’t wavering. When we spoke with the walkout’s organizers recently, they said that while they were still tallying the exact numbers of just how many people participated, sizable groups showed up at both in-group and virtual locations, and “the experience was at once overwhelming and gratifying.”
“The show of support and community was more than we ever expected, and the good we were able to do during that time was so encouraging, even if it doesn’t quite hold up to the damage done by the law,” the organizers said. “Returning to work has been an interesting experience — people are definitely still fired up and ready to keep pushing, and we think that even those who didn’t directly participate in the walkout have become much more involved due to our efforts.”
One of the biggest concerns Disney’s employees have outlined has to do with the company’s recent push to move more of its employees to Florida. According to the walkout’s organizers, entire divisions of the company — Imagineers, for the most part — have been asked to move to a new location in central Orlando, where Disney’s building out office space. While Disney’s been relocating employees for some time now, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s passage would make mandated moves to Florida have a different prospect, but the company has not yet spoken to employees about this directly.
“The company hasn’t said anything internally or externally [about] how they’re handling requests to not relocate as a result of this law, which is why it’s been one of our demands from Day One that they allow anyone who doesn’t want to move the option to choose another location or work remotely,” the organizers said. “It remains to be seen if the company will actually take any action on that particular front.”