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Florida Democrats move fundraiser event from Disney following backlash over bill dubbed 'Don't Say Gay' by critics

The June 17-19 event will no longer be held at Disney's Coronado Springs.
Credit: AP
A Disney cast member displays a Mickey Mouse pin on his shirt at The Center, an LGBTQ support organization, while participating in an employee walkout of Walt Disney World, Tuesday, March 22, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Florida Democratic Party will no longer be holding its annual fundraising gala at a Disney resort amid backlash for the theme park giant's response to legislation dubbed "Don't Say Gay" by critics.

"Scheduling Leadership Blue at Disney during Pride Month this year is nothing but tone deaf. To put it another way: FDP — read the room," Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus President Stephen Gaskill said prior to the change. 

The selection of Disney's Coronado Springs Resort to host the Leadership Blue 2022 event from June 17-29 was met with criticism and a call from the caucus for elected officials to skip the event.

"The Florida LGBTQ+ Democratic Caucus will not support Leadership Blue this year, and we will not participate. We call on Florida’s elected officials and candidates — nearly all of whom routinely pledge to stand with the LGBTQ+ community — to skip this year’s event as well," Gaskill wrote. 

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Nikki Fried and Charlie Crist both answered the call on Twitter. 

"I will always advocate for our LGBTQ+ community. I urge the Democratic Party of Florida to reconsider its decision to host June's Leadership Blue Gala at Disney. Less than 24 hours after the Florida Democratic Caucus' call for change, the Florida Democratic Party announced it would be seeking new arrangements," Fried wrote.

"While they made mistakes early, Disney is trying to do the right thing — in the face of Governor DeSantis’ attacks on our LGBTQ+ community. But given the timing and conversation going on right now at Disney, it’s prudent the party consider other options," Crist wrote.

Less than 24 hours after the call to action, the Florida Democratic Party announced it would be seeking new arrangements. 

Party Chair Manny Diaz says the change was a result of feedback, including conflicts with Pride Month, Juneteenth and Father's Day events. Disney was not mentioned in Diaz's statement. 

"Our timing was not ideal. We also acknowledge that in our fight for freedom and fairness, we can always do more. In that spirit, the Florida Democratic Party will choose new dates and venues to hold Leadership Blue," Diaz wrote.

Information about the new arrangements will be shared once all available options have been explored, Diaz added.

Gaskill issued the following statement in response to Leadership Blue being moved: 

“Thank you to everyone who reached out to the Florida Democratic Party to support the LGBTQ+ community. We heard from elected officials, candidates, party members, Caucus presidents, and voters, who all are committed to equality. While it may seem like a family squabble that spilled into the street, this situation underscores that the many groups, organizations and individuals that make up the FDP can pull together when the cause is right. We appreciate FDP’s willingness to listen and change course, and we look forward to continuing our strong partnership aimed at turning Florida blue in 2022."

Disney has faced backlash the past two weeks, due to the way Disney employees and lovers alike felt the company mishandled its approach to Florida legislation that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Critics have dubbed the legislation “Don’t Say Gay” because it bars educators from teaching LGBTQ-related topics within a curriculum to students in kindergarten through third grade.

It wasn't until March 9, during a shareholders meeting that CEO Bob Chapek took a public stance on the bill, sharing he called 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 at the time.

Soon after, The Walt Disney Co. announced it would be pausing political donations in the Sunshine State. The stoppage on Florida-based political donations was said to be in place as Disney reworked its current system into one that "will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values." 

In the same announcement, Chapek also apologized to employees for the way things unfolded.

"It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights," Chapek's letter read. "You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry."

DeSantis has not yet signed the controversial bill but indicated Tuesday he will sign it "relatively soon."

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