Words: Brian Leonard; pictures: Disney and Pexels
As apologies go, few have been so comprehensive a mea culpa. Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, after a backlash from employees and public alike, has done as many have asked and denounced the homophobic ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation just passed in the Walt Disney World home state of Florida and said sorry for taking so long to take a stand.
His initial position, in an internal memo, said that Disney’s leadership stands “unequivocally” with its LGBTQ employees and the community but that corporate statements “do very little to change outcomes or minds.” And so stopped short of outright condemnation.
But after a series of protests among Disney staff that led to walkouts, mirrored by school students State-wide, Chapek has chosen sides and, in a letter to employees, writes: “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
Addressing shareholders later, he further apologised for his silence, recognising that “I understand our original approach, no matter how well intentioned, didn’t quite get the job done,” adding that the legislation “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.”
“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organisations working to achieve that,” he continues.
“We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
Chapek also told company shareholders that he has spoken to the state's Republican governor (and a supporter of the bill) Ron DeSantis to express his "disappointment" and will meet with him in the company of Disney LGBTQ colleagues.
Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill – officially named the Parental Rights in Education bill – has drawn attention to the constant threat of having LGBTQ rights stripped away as it effectively bans discussions of LGBTQ topics in public schools for pupils aged 5-9, as well as teaching that is considered "not age-appropriate" for other students.
Disney became embroiled in the fall out around the bill after it was revealed the company had made donations to a series of politicians on both sides of the house, but included among their number was Joe Harding, a Republican who crafted the bill, who received the sum of $4,000.
Chapek has now said Disney will “pause all political donations” and reassess such things going forward.
The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill has been condemned by President Joe Biden, and others, as "hateful" but nonetheless takes effect from 1st July.