Disney CEO Bob Chapek said the company was "opposed to the bill from the outset," but chose "not to take a public position on it because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes."

Disney CEO Bob Chapek shifted gears after stating the company would stay silent on the "Don't Say Gay" bill that recently passed the Florida Senate.

On Wednesday, during a Walt Disney Company shareholders meeting, Chapek spoke out against the bill, saying Disney was signing the Human Rights Organization statement "opposing such legislative efforts around the country" and pledging $5 million to the HRC and other organizations working to protect LGBTQ+ rights. (The HRC announced hours later that it was refusing to accept Disney's donation.)

"While we've been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill," Chapek said. "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. And we were hopeful that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome. But, despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful."

"I called [Florida] Governor DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender kids and families," Chapek continued. "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."

Disney CEO Bob Chapek
Disney CEO Bob Chapek
| Credit: Jacqueline Nell/Getty Images. Inset: Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

Later in the session, Chapek said during their "extraordinary conversation," DeSantis promised "he wanted to make sure that this law could not be weaponized ... to in any way unduly harm or target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender kids and families." DeSantis apparently asked Disney to "come up with ideas and concerns of specific aspects of that legislation which would lead to the weaponization of it."

House Bill 1557, or the Parental Rights in Education bill, which critics and LGBTQ+ activists have collectively dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill, states that conversations around sexual orientation and gender identity "may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."

When it comes to higher grades, only "age-appropriate" instruction would be permitted, and parents would have the right to sue schools or teachers that engage in these topics.

Pouring gasoline over the already raging discourse about what this will mean for LGBTQ+ kids in Florida schools, Christina Pushaw, the press secretary for Gov. DeSantis, described the bill as "an Anti-Grooming Bill" on Twitter — perpetuating the harmful and offensive belief that LGBTQ+ people are predators and grooming children to be queer.

"If you're against the Anti-Grooming Bill, you are probably a groomer or at least you don't denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children. Silence is complicity," Pushaw tweeted. "This is how it works, Democrats, and I didn't make the rules."

The bill has already passed Florida's House and Senate, and now only needs DeSantis' approval to be written into law. It has also spawned similar bills in America, including one filed this week in Georgia.

"The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida's Don't Say Gay or Trans bill, don't become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books," HRC interim president Joni Madison said in a statement Wednesday night following the shareholders call. "Businesses have had and continue to have a major impact in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from marriage equality to the defeat of House Bill 2 in North Carolina and beyond. While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida — including hardworking families employed by Disney — today they took a step in the right direction. But it was merely the first step."

The statement continued: "HRC encourages Disney, and all employers, to continue to fight for their employees – many of whom bravely spoke out to say their CEO's silence was unacceptable – and the LGBTQ+ community by working with us and state and local LGBTQ+ groups to ensure these dangerous anti-equality proposals that harm LGBTQ+ families and kids have no place in Florida. Every student deserves to be seen, and every student deserves an education that prepares them for health and success — regardless of who they are. This should be the beginning of Disney's advocacy efforts rather than the end."

Disney came under fire after the Orlando Sentinel reported that the company, which operates Disney World in the state, has donated to every politician who sponsored or cosponsored the bill.

Disney released a statement on March 4 through Good Morning America that read, "We understand how important this issue is to our LGBTQ+ employees and many others. For nearly a century, Disney has been a unifying force that brings people together. We are determined that it remains a place where everyone is treated with dignity and respect."

According to IndieWire, Chapek had also sent a memo to staff that said "the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support."

That drew even more criticism. Many Disney employees have since spoken out against the company for its apparent inaction.

Celebrities and public figures continue to speak out about it. Kate McKinnon dedicated a Weekend Update segment to the matter on Saturday Night Live, while President Joe Biden called the bill "hateful." Former Disney CEO Bob Iger tweeted that he stands with the president. "If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy," Iger wrote.

In his statements during Wednesday's shareholders' call, Chapek doubled down on the company's commitment "to supporting community organizations" like the HRC and promised they are "reassessing our approach to advocacy, including political giving in Florida and beyond."

"I understand our original approach, no matter how well-intentioned, didn't quite get the job done," he said. "But we are committed to supporting the community going forward."

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