Facing Criticism, Disney CEO Vows to Step Up LGBTQ Advocacy

FILE PHOTO: Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek attends Boston College Chief Executives Club luncheon in Boston
Disney CEO Bob Chapek took heat after initially failing to take a public stance against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill.
REUTERS/Katherine Taylor

Disney is pausing political donations in Florida and claiming to ramp up support for LGBTQ advocacy efforts in other states, CEO Bob Chapek told staff members in an apologetic public statement on March 11.

The note emerged after Chapek, facing mounting pressure to speak out, finally expressed opposition to Florida’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill, which bans LGBTQ rhetoric in classrooms and poses privacy risks for young students. The legislation has passed both chambers of the State Legislature and awaits Governor Ron DeSantis’ signature.

“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 wrote. “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.”

Chapek said Disney is working on a new approach to political giving to “ensure our advocacy better reflects our values.”

The Disney leader is scrambling to quell criticism after he took heat for refusing to speak out against the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill while lawmakers ushered the legislation through both chambers. In a note to shareholders on March 7, Chapek dismissed the power of public political stances when he said “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds.”

Chapek said Disney was opposed to the bill all along, but opted against taking a public stance in order to work “behind the scenes” with state lawmakers. Disney sought to address some of the growing outrage by making a donation to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), but HRC refused to take the money until Disney shows more concrete action in support of the LGBTQ community.

Chapek said he called DeSantis to discuss the bill, but that conversation went nowhere — and DeSantis turned around and put Disney on blast while spouting transphobia.

“We are not going to allow them to inject transgenderism into kindergarten,” DeSantis said in public remarks circulated on social media. “I also think you have companies like Disney that are going to say and criticize parents’ rights; they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten and first grade classrooms.”

Chapek, meanwhile, is vowing to provide more support to the queer community moving forward.

“I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community,” Chapek said. “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.”

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