Disney CEO condemns Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill – but will they act where it counts?

Disney’s CEO has finally condemned the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but employees claim that execs have been censoring LGBTQIA+ representation for years.

Disney has a poor record when it comes to backing non-white, non-hetero representation. The promotion for Star Wars: The Force Awakens saw leading man, John Boyega, who played defecting stormtrooper, “Finn”, diminished in size, on posters disseminated throughout China.

For several weeks the public has lambasted Disney across social media for its extended silence on the controversial, “Don’t Say Gay” bill – which was passed this week, prohibiting any discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity within schools.

Rainbow Disney
Credit: Business Wire

This week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek broke his lengthy silence, admitting he knows “many are upset that we didn’t speak out against the bill,” and that the company is “reassessing our approach to advocacy – including political giving in Florida and beyond.

He continued by saying the “biggest impact” Disney can make “in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce.”

But many employees at Disney felt this to be oath of a hypocrite. In a state attributed to “the LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies,” employees of the industry-dominating studio allege that Disney executives have forced cuts from “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection… regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar.”

Better reassess quick, Chapek, because it seems that historically, Disney and Pixar executives have been toeing the line when it comes to advocacy.

The Disney and Pixar employee letter revealed: “We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were”.

“Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”

Pixar has allowed minimal LGBTQIA+ representation in its feature films, most prominently in the 2020 fantasy film, “Onward,” that stars Tom Holland, Chris Pratt, and Tina Fey, depicting a cyclops police officer named Specter, voiced by Lena Waithe.

The characters orientation is mentioned in passing, when Specter says, “it’s not easy being a new parent – my girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, okay?”.

Despite the brief mention of homosexuality, the film was ultimately banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. In Russia, the word “girlfriend” was changed to “partner”.

The employee letter also demands Disney withdraw all financial support from the legislatures who support the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and “take a decisive public stand” against all bills and legislation similar throughout the US.

Chapek has announced that Disney would pledge $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQIA+ rights organisations, and that he would meet with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – who heads the bill – to discuss Disney’s concerns about the legislation.

“Gov. DeSantis committed to me that he wanted to make sure that this law could not be weaponised in any way by individuals in the state or groups in the state to unduly harm or target gay, lesbian, nonbinary or transgender kids and families,” Chapek said.

In response, Pixar employees stated, “while signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough… Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate ‘both sides’ – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting.”

Following Chapek’s pledge, the HRC stated they’d refuse the donation until “meaningful action is taken to combat” the legislation.

The HRC’s interim president Joni Madison elaborated: “Businesses have had and continue to have a major impact in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights… while Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida – including hardworking families employed by Disney – today they took a step in the right direction. But it was merely the first step.”

Disney holds enormous financial, cultural, social, and media-based reach in the United States and the world. Here’s to hoping that their heteronormative values are placed in the spotlight and transformed for the sake of a more inclusive landscape.