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Disney CEO called the governor of Florida to oppose ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

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The Disney boss backtracked on the company’s silence to the bill

Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Disney CEO Bob Chapek addressed criticism over the company’s handling of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill today, saying he called the state’s governor to express “concern” with the bill and pledged millions to charity in response to its passing. Chapek said that the company’s initial response, “no matter how well-intended, didn’t quite get the job done, but we’re committed to support the community going forward.”

Disney recently came under fire for its refusal to openly condemn the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — which bans primary school teachers from “discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” — despite operating a booming business empire in the state. In an internal memo to staff sent Monday, Chapek had written that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” adding that “they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.” The refusal to speak out against the harmful legislation quickly garnered criticism from Disney fans, creators, and the company’s employees.

Speaking during the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, Chapek said Wednesday he would “like to take a moment to address some concerns that I’ve heard from many about the legislation impacting that LGBTQ+ community in Florida.” Claiming that Disney has “been strong supporters of the community for decades,” Chapek said, he is aware “that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill.”

Chapek added that while “we were opposed to the bill from the outset,” the company “chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. And we were hopeful that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome.” Those discussions did not equate to meaningful impact, Chapek acknowledged, as the bill passed Florida’s Senate this week and is expected to be signed into law by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Disney boss said that he personally called DeSantis on Wednesday morning in order to “express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender kids and families.”

“The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address them,” Chapek said. “Certainly, the outcome in Florida was not what many of us were hoping for, especially our LGBTQ+ employees. And unfortunately, legislation targeting their communities is being considered in many other states, which means this fight will go on.”

“Meanwhile, we’re also reassessing our approach to advocacy, including political giving in Florida and beyond,” Chapek said. “I understand our original approach, no matter how well-intended, didn’t quite get the job done, but we’re committed to support the community going forward.”

In order to combat bigoted legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, Chapek said that Disney would be signing the Human Rights Campaign’s statement opposing these efforts and pledged to give $5 million to organizations like HRC working to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals.

“As I wrote to our employees earlier this week, we are committed to supporting community organizations like these so they are better equipped to take on these fights,” he said.

HRC, however, issued a statement saying it would refuse Disney’s money until it saw meaningful action from the company. “The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws,” said Joni Madison, Interim President of the Human Rights Campaign, “and if they do, to work to get them off the books.”

Update March 10th, 7:30AM ET: Added statement from HRC rejecting Disney’s money.