Pixar employees say Disney has censored LGBTQ stories 'down to crumbs of what they once were'
UPDATE: Following a letter penned by Pixar employees, Disney CEO Bob Chapek wrote his staff an email on Friday apologizing to the company's LGBTQ employees and vowing to cease all political donations in the state of Florida for the time being.
"Thank you to all who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company's response to the Florida 'Don't Say Gay' bill," Chapek began the email, which was verified by EW. "Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was. It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.
"Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good. I agree," he continued. "Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all."
Chapek then mentioned that "starting immediately," Disney is increasing its "support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states" and is "hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values."
"And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review," he added. "But, I know there is so much more work to be done. I am committed to this work and to you all, and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally. You will hear more about our progress in the coming weeks. I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community. I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve."
EARLIER: Pixar employees are speaking out in response to Disney's actions surrounding Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill.
Workers at the animation house say Disney has a history of censoring LGBTQ representations in films, according to a letter from "Leadership from the LGBTQIA+ Employees of Pixar & Their Allies" that was obtained by EW.
"We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were," the letter reads. "Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney's behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar."
A representative for Disney did not immediately respond to EW's request for comment.
The letter was written in response to an internal memo from CEO Bob Chapek sent to Disney staff earlier this week that addressed House Bill 1557, dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill. HB1557, which passed Florida's House and Senate, seeks to prevent discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity "in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."
Under the bill, only "age-appropriate" instruction would be permitted in higher grades. Parents would also have the right to sue any school or teacher that engages in these discussions.
The bill is also another in a wave of attacks against the trans community. According to the HRC, a record number of states (34) have introduced 147 anti-transgender bills over the course of 2021. One of the more egregious instances involves Texas Gov. Greg Abbott calling on his department to "conduct a prompt and thorough investigation" into any instance of a minor undergoing "elective procedures for gender transitioning." That includes taking any prescription of hormones or puberty blockers.
After reports surfaced stating that Disney had donated to every sponsor and co-sponsor of the bill, Chapek's memo stated "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."
The letter from Pixar employees addresses the memo, stating, "Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it. Beyond the 'inspiring content' that we aren't even allowed to create, we require action."
Pixar's 2020 film Onward featured a gay character named Officer Spector, voiced by Lena Waithe, but the character's involvement in the story was fleeting. So far, the only LGBTQ-focused work released from Pixar is the short film Out, which premiered on the Disney+ streaming platform.
Chapek made more definitive statements on the "Don't Say Gay" bill during a Disney shareholders meeting on Wednesday. He said the company was "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."
"We were hopeful that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome," he added. "But, despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful."
Chapek noted that he had spoken with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and expressed his concerns about how the bill "could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender kids and families." He also said he planned to meet with DeSantis and further pledged to donate $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations.
However, the HRC announced it would refuse any donations 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."
Chapek and other Disney leaders received a letter from LGBTQ staff about the "Don't Say Gay" bill just after it had passed Florida's House of Representatives, per Variety. That letter reportedly urged Disney to "issue a public statement condemning anti-LGBTQIA+ policies in the U.S."
In their joint letter, Pixar employees say they are "disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry" regarding Disney's actions thus far.
"We are calling on Disney leadership to immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, to fully denounce this legislation publicly, and to make amends for their financial involvement," the letter states.
"While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough. Throughout the shareholder meeting, Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community; they instead attempted to placate 'both sides' — and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question-and-answer portion of the meeting. This is not what it means to 'unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.'"
Journalist Judd Legum was the first to report on the Pixar employees' letter. Read it in full below.
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