ORLANDO, Fla. — After facing hefty backlash for his silence, Disney CEO Bob Chapek is now speaking out against the controversial Florida legislation that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity at younger grade levels.
During a March 9 shareholders call, Chapek publicly opposed the bill dubbed by critics as “Don’t Say Gay" given it bars educators from teaching sexual orientation-related topics within a curriculum to students in kindergarten through third grade.
"While we've been strong supporters of the [LGBTQ] community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” said Chapek during his opening statements. “We were 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.”
Chapek also told shareholders he called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to express "disappointment" and "concern" with the bill.
“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.
The governor's office confirmed to 10 Tampa Bay that DeSantis did take a call from Chapek on Wednesday but that his "position has not changed." An in-person meeting has yet to be scheduled between the two.
"Disney is a family-friendly company that creates wholesome entertainment for kids. The same Florida parents who take their families to Disney also support parental rights in education, because they do not want their young children exposed to inappropriate content about sex and gender theory at school," a spokesperson for the Governor's Office wrote in an emailed statement.
The Walt Disney Co. has also signed the Human Rights Campaign statement opposing similar legislative efforts around the country and has pledged $5 million to organizations working to protect LGBTQ+ rights.
"I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company — and world. I understand that the very need to reiterate that commitment means we still have more work to do," the memo reads.
In the memo, Chapek also shared that he met with "a small group of Disney LGBTQ+ leaders" to discuss the bill and how it could impact the community. He also said the best way for The Walt Disney Co. to bring about change is through the content and culture it creates as opposed to corporate statements.
"Powerful content that changes hearts and minds only springs from inclusive cultures, which not only attract and retain the best and most diverse talent, but also give those employees the freedom to bring forth ideas that reflect their lives and experiences. We must work together to ensure Disney always remains such a place," the Chapek memo reads.
Ire over the situation came from Disney lovers and employees alike with posts reading #DisneyDoBetter and #DisneySayGay flooding social media.
Among those upset was Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of The Walt Disney Co. co-founder Roy O. Disney. She shared her displeasure with the company's stance.
"The times for neutrality are long since over. That train has left the goddam station. What is Disney for? Is it for pretending what America is about, or it is for defining a vision for a world in which fantasy, love, kindness, decency and loyalty are bedrock values," she tweeted as part of a lengthy thread.
Abigail Disney also called out Chapek for being "more worried about right-wing backlash" than employees and Disney lovers. She also called him the "wrong leadership for the wrong time."
Another big name in the world of Disney also spoke out against the legislation prior to it passing the Florida Legislature.
Former CEO and Chairman of the Walt Disney Co. Bob Iger tweeted against the bill on Feb. 24, saying that he supported President Joe Biden's stance on it.
"I'm with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy," he wrote.
Concerns over Disney's political contributions have also bubbled to the surface with reports that the company had previously backed politicians who have supported the controversial bill.
Chapek also addressed the rumblings in the Monday memo saying: "While we have not given money to any politician based on this issue, we have contributed to both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation."
Geoff Morrell, Disney's new chief corporate affairs officer, is reported to also be tasked with reassessing the company's global "advocacy strategies," including political contributions.