Daily walkouts this month culminated in a full workday protest on 22 March, demanding Disney to indefinitely halt all political donations to state officials who created or helped pass the measure, which opponents warn will marginalise and endanger the lives of LGBT+ young people in Florida’s schools.
Protesting workers – across Disney-owned ESPN, Marvel, Pixar, and other entities – have called on Disney leadership to publicly commit to an actionable plan that protects employees from anti-LGBT+ legislation, among other demands urging the company to bolster its support for LGBT+ people and their families.
Disney – the state’s largest private employer and a political heavyweight in the state – has faced weeks of pressure from Disney employees and LGBT+ advocates urging leadership to leverage the company’s massive influence to publicly lobby against the bill.
“Disney can and should use its influence to be an ally and show up for human rights for Floridians, its employees and their families,” protesting workers said in a social media statement on Tuesday. “Today we support all Disney employees walking out in solidarity for human rights, including those of our [LGBT+] loved ones. Today, and every day, we support making schools and workplaces –and a society – safe for all marginalized communities.”
Following reports from The Independent and other news organisations revealing Disney donated tens of thousands of dollars to Republican legislators and state officials who supported the bill, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced that the company was “pausing” all political donations in the state.
“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” he said in a statement on 11 March. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
In a conference call with workers on Monday night, he told employees that Disney leadership is “determined to use this moment as a catalyst for more meaningful and lasting change,” according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported that Mr Chapek and other top Disney staff would go on a global listening tour of employees.
The “Parental Rights in Education” bill – named “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents – prohibits classroom instruction of “sexual orientation or gender identity” from kindergarten through the third grade and any such discussion “that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students” in other grades.
Mr Chapek’s remarks and company statements “have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation,” according to a statement from protesting workers.
“As a community, we have been forced into an impossible and unsustainable position,” they wrote. “We must now take action to convince [Disney] to protect employees and their families in the face of such open and unapologetic bigotry.”
Disney has repeatedly touted its LGBT+ advocacy and its annual placement on the Human Rights Campaign’s “best places to work” for LGBT+ people, but The Independent’s review of state campaign finance records found that Disney entities donated tens of thousands of dollars to Florida legislators who supported the bill, including at least $4,000 to the 2022 re-election campaigns for the bill’s chief sponsors, state Representative Joe Harding and state Senator Dennis Baxley.
Disney also donated at last $50,000 to a political action committee tied to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis in 2021.
Disney employees “know that corporations like Disney have a real role to play in combating discriminatory legislation,” Human Rights Campaign Interim President Joni Madison said in a statement.
The Independent has requested comment from Disney.