The Walt Disney Company is “reassessing” its political donations in the wake of reports that the company financially backed chief sponsors behind widely critcised legislation in Florida that could forcibly “out” LGBT+ students and ban discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
“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,” CEO Bob Chapek said in a staff memo on 7 March.
Mr Chapek said the company’s new chief corporate affairs officer Geoff Morrell will be “reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world – including political giving” following passage of a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that has drawn international outrage.
Campaign finance records reviewed by The Independent found that at least three Disney entities gave the chief Republican sponsors of the legislation $4,000 combined for their 2022 re-election campaigns, among thousands of dollars to campaigns supporting GOP legislators who back the measure.
“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,” Mr Chapek said on Monday. “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.”
He also sought to explain why the company – which publicly advocates for LGBT+ people and promotes its LGBT+-inclusive workplace policies – did not release a statement addressing the legislation, which critics warn could endanger the lives of LGBT+ young people and have a chilling effect on LGBT+ schoolchildren and their families.
“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” he said. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change.”
He said the company’s films and programmes – pointing to the TV series Modern Family and films like Encanto and Black Panther – “are our corporate statements.”
“And they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort,” he said. “I firmly believe that our ability to tell such stories – and have them received with open eyes, ears, and hearts –would be diminished if our company were to become a political football in any debate.”
The “Parental Rights in Education” bill bars instruction of “sexual orientation or gender identity” through the third grade and any discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades.
The bill passed the state’s House of Representatives on 24 February and is poised to pass the state Senate on 7 March. Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to sign it into law.
LGBT+ advocacy group Equality Florida, among leading opponents of the measure, says the legislation is “meant to stigmatize LGBTQ people, isolate LGBTQ kids, and make teachers fearful of providing a safe, inclusive classroom.”
“The existence of LGBTQ students and parents is not a taboo topic that has to be regulated by the Florida Legislature,” the group said in a statement.
Disney will host a “Reimagine Tomorrow” panel on 22 March focused around “issues of concern to our LGBTQ+ colleagues,” will a “Reimagine Tomorrow Global Summit” to follow on 13 April that will be “the first gathering of our employees worldwide to discuss our progress on and plans for improving diversity, equity and inclusion at Disney,” according to the company.