ORLANDO, Fla. — On a day that some Disney workers across the U.S. are threatening a walkout, the entertainment company published a statement "in solidarity" with the LGBTQIA+ community.
Numerous employees and gay rights advocates criticized The Walt Disney Co. in recent weeks for not taking a more public stance sooner against Florida's "Parental Rights in Education" bill, which has divided the state and been dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
The bill, which passed the Florida Legislature and awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis' signature, bars school personnel or third parties from teaching students in grades K-3 about sexual orientation or gender identity. It also blocks educators from teaching school children about those topics in any manner that is not deemed "age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate" in accordance with unspecified state standards.
Gov. DeSantis on Tuesday said he will sign the bill "relatively soon."
Some Disney fans and workers grew increasingly upset with the company as the bill made its way through the Florida Legislature. A memo by CEO Bob Chapek that outlets reported on just prior to the bill's passage read that the company was "opposed to the bill from the outset, but we 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."
In Disney's latest statement, the Disney Parks page on Facebook and Instagram published a graphic of the famous Mickey Mouse logo with colors representing the LGBTQIA+ community. The image was not published to Disney's main social media channels, which have far greater reach.
"To ALL who come to this happy place, welcome," the post reads.
"Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products is committed to creating experiences that support family values for every family, and will not stand for discrimination in any form. We oppose any legislation that infringes on basic human rights, and stand in solidarity and support our LGBTQIA+ Cast, Crew, and Imagineers and fans who make their voices heard today and every day."
Chapek earlier announced Disney would suspend political donations in Florida and rework its current system into one that "will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values."
DeSantis, seen speaking to supporters on March 10 in a video obtained by Fox News, said the chance that he will "back down" due to pressure from "woke" corporations is "zero."
He reiterated his feelings Tuesday, saying Disney's leadership "bought into a lot of the false narratives" of the bill.
"When you're looking at saying, you know, for our kindergartners, our first graders, our second graders, the classroom instruction they're getting should not be involving these issues involving sexuality, particularly things like transgenderism where they're being taught they may be able to change genders, that's something that parents do not want," DeSantis said.
"That's something that a parent would want to be engaging with their student in. And so I would just tell people, it's a free country, do what you believe in, but understand if you are out protesting this bill, you are, by definition, putting yourself in favor of injecting sexual instruction to 5, 6 and 7-year-old kids. I think most people think that's wrong, I think parents, especially think that's wrong."
The legislation, officially HB 1557, spells out new levels of parental authority over what happens in the classroom. For instance, the bill would require schools to notify parents if educators noticed any major changes in their child's health or welfare. It also allows parents to sue the school if they think procedures infringe on their rights to raise their own child. Democratic lawmakers have argued the bill's language is vague and creates a burden for school districts. And union leaders have warned the legislation could push teachers out of the state and pit them against parents.
But, neither of those points or anything else in the seven-page bill has drawn nearly the attention that the 41-word line about sexual orientation and gender identity has. That's because many opponents view it as both a solution without a problem and a bill that could lead to discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community. Thus, they call it the "Don't Say Gay" bill, a title which has bothered the governor's office.
"Does it say that in the bill?" DeSantis asked a reporter earlier in March, while criticizing the media's coverage of the legislation.
While the word "gay" does not appear in the legislation, opponents have argued the impact is the same. Students have walked out of classrooms in protest of the legislation and have suggested lawmakers are trying to silence LGBTQIA+ voices.
"If we don't start at these younger grades with embracing our identities and letting it be known that these people exist, and we're OK, and we shouldn't be ostracized from society then we're going to see this regression," 17-year-old Jack Petocz, an openly-gay student at Flagler Palm Coast High School, previously told WESH-TV.
The protests have not stopped the bill from moving forward.
GLAAD, the LGBTQ+ media advocacy group, says the term "transgenderism" is used by people who "dehumanize transgender people and reduce who they are to 'a condition' or a 'dangerous ideology' that threatens 'free speech.'"
An amendment proposed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, a Republican representing St. Petersburg, would've replaced the words "sexual orientation or gender identity" with "human sexuality or sexual activity." It failed on a party-line vote, with Brandes joining Democrats to vote in support of changing the language.
Equality Florida said the amendment was a step in the right direction, as debate over the bill has often conflated sexual orientation and sexual activity.
As it stands, the bill allows for the discussion of LGBTQIA+ topics should they spontaneously come up in the classroom, said Republican Rep. Joe Harding, who sponsored the House’s version of the bill, in an earlier committee meeting.
As explained earlier, school districts may opt to ban topics of sexual orientation or gender identity beyond third grade if leaders deem them not to be age or developmentally appropriate.
Despite repeated denials that the bill singles out LGBTQIA+ individuals, Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, admitted as much on the Senate floor, saying the bill was a product of his own personal concerns with so many children today coming out as gay – something he suggested was part of a trend to get popular.
“We are in a trending posture right now,” said Baxley, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill. “There really is a dynamic of concern of how much of this are genuine type of experiences and how many of them are just kids trying on different kinds of things they hear about and different kinds of identities.”
An earlier amendment was withdrawn that critics worried would have required schools to "out" students to their parents if they confided about their sexual orientation or gender identity.