Disney and Florida are virtually translated with each other thanks to the Walt Disney World resort and its theme parks. But this week, Florida is in the news for its just-passed Parental Rights in Education Bill, widely known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Disney CEO Bob Chapek responded to the news last week, but Disney employees disappointed with his response are staging walkouts this week, Variety reports.
Disney did not initially respond to the bill, but outside pressure both about the bill and Disney’s donations to elected officials who supported the bill forced a response from CEO Bob Chapek, who said in an internal memo that “I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stood in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company–and world,” adding that “We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ in the tactics to get there And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe 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 response was seen by many as rather weak and non-committal on both Disney and Chapek’s part, and Chapek not only apologized for the initial statement during a shareholder’s call, he later issued a follow-up apology via an internal memo as well. Yesterday, a Twitter account named DisneyWalkout went active with an open statement from a group of the company’s LGBTQIA+ employees, and a link to a new website, WhereIsChapek.com.
The group asks that the Walt Disney Corporation immediately (and moving forward) cease any political donations to politicians who supported the bill in Florida. Chapek said in his statement that the company will increase support for advocacy groups in other states, too, and the group has responded by asking for the corporation to “publicly commit to an actionable plan that protects employees from hateful legislation.” The statement also asks the corporation to commit to protecting its LGBTQIA+ staff “even in the face of political risk” and to “take responsibility for their inaction to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ children and their families.”
The bill, which passed the Florida House last month and the Florida Senate last week, restricts classroom instruction in a number of vague ways, with one crucial passage reading that “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or 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.” The bill does not, however, define what many of those terms mean, and Vox points out that this leaves room for someone to argue, for example, that a student simply finding out that their teacher is married to someone of the same gender could fall under that wording.
Similar to the demands of the LGBTQIA+ employees who walked out at Netflix in the wake of Dave Chapelle’s The Closer comedy special, the group has asked the corporation to “allocate content spending and outline how it will expand its content catalog to represent the LGBTQIA+, as well as transparent reporting on methods of community inclusion in content creation and inception; the group also asks for a brand similar to that of the company’s own “Onyx Collective” brand, which is meant to specifically support artists and content creators of color, but for “LGBTQ+ creators and underrepresented voices.”
The walkout began today–Tuesday, March 15–from 3:00 to 3:15 PM, and it set to take place daily through March 21. On Tuesday, March 22, a “full-scale walkout” is planned. The statement does not give any information as to how many employees will participate in the protest, which is taking place both in-person and virtually. The group behind the walkouts has noted that the fifteen-minute walkouts are protected by law, while the full-scale walkout is not, and advises those considering participation to “take your own situation into account before choosing to participate.” Disney has not yet responded to the announcement.