Employees of The Walt Disney Company are organizing a mass walkout to protest the company’s stance on Florida’s anti-grooming bill also known as the Parental Rights in Education bill.
The bill, HB 1557, declares, “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.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ press secretary Christina Pushaw dubbed the bill “an Anti-Grooming Bill.”
The Walt Disney Company and its CEO Bob Chapek initially publicly declared they would not be taking a position on the bill.
The company first issued a statement 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. The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create here and the diverse community organizations we support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community,” the statement concludes.
Following this statement, Bob Chapek would send out a company-wide email explaining why the company was not taking a public position on the bill.
He wrote, “I also believe you deserve an explanation for why we have not issued a statement. We are going to have a more fulsome conversation about this at the company-wide Reimagine Tomorrow Summit in April, but I will preview that discussion now as it is so timely.”
“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” he explained. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change.”
He then asserted, “I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of a statement for a lack of support. We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there.”
Chapek then explained his 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.”
Later in the email he would note, “I firmly believe that our ability to tell such stories-and have them received with open eyes, ears, and hearts -would be diminished if our company were to become a political football in any debate.”
However, he would follow that up concluding the email writing, “Our company has been a force for inclusion for a long time- and that will not change on my watch.”
“We all have a role to play in this effort-from the Cast Members who make magical memories for fans and families of all kinds, to storytellers who take audiences on journeys to new storyworlds that illuminate our own, to everyone in between who is responsible for ensuring our culture lives up to our values,” he continued.
The Disney CEO concluded, “I hope we will all continue rowing in the direction of a better tomorrow.”
Chapek would then reveal that the company had actually been actively opposing the bill the entire time while addressing the company’s shareholders at Disney’s 2022 Annual Meeting of Shareholders.
He said, “While we’ve been strong supporters of the community for decades I know many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill. Now, 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 long-standing relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome, but despite weeks of effort we were ultimately unsuccessful,” he admitted.
Chapek then detailed, “I called Governor DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender kids and families.”
“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,” he added.
He would double down on these comments in another company-wide email. Chapek wrote, “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 continued, “Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good. I agree. 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.”
“Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states,” he declared. “We are 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.”
“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,” he stated.
Chapek then asserted, “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,” he concluded.
Despite Chapek’s revelation that he and Disney were actively working to torpedo the bill from the onset and his pledge to be a champion for the LGBTQ+ community as well as his promise to create more LGBTQ+ content, Disney employees revealed they are staging a walk out for March 22nd.
On their website, they explain, “Starting Tuesday March 15th through Monday March 21st we will begin scheduled walkouts during a 15 minute break period. These will take place at 3:00PM-3:15PM respective to the employees timezone. Then on Tuesday March 22nd we will engage in a full stage walkout.”
On top of this walk out they listed a number of demands for Disney.
First, they want Disney to “cease all campaign donations to these politicians involved in the creation or passage of the “don’t say gay or trans” bill: Ron DeSantis, Ben Albritton, Dennis Baxley, Aaron Bean, Jim Boyd, Jason Brodeur, Doug Broxson, Danny Burgess, Manny Diaz, George Gainer, Ileana Garcia, Joe Gruters, Gayle Harrell, Ed Hooper, Travis Hutson, Debbie Mayfield, Kathleen Passidomo, Keith Perry, Ray Rodrigues, Ana Rodriguez, Kelli Stargel, Wilton Simpson.”
Second, the employees demand “an actionable plan that protects from hateful legislation.”
As part of this demand they want Disney to stop “construction and investment in the state of Florida until hateful legislation is repealed.”
They also want the company to stop “any efforts to move employees to Florida office locations, ensuring employee safety and employment retention.” The employees also demand that no employee should be terminated if they deny relocation to Florida.
Concluding this demand, they want “Disney to create an employee resource group specializing in helping LGBTQ+ families navigate the state’s political and educational climate, and partner with other local groups for additional employee resources.”
Their third demand is a reaffirmation of “company’s commitment to protecting and advocating for its LGBTQIA+ staff, even in the face of political risk. This must include full transparency into political and organizational contributions – full accountability is not negotiable.”
Next, the employees want Disney to “take responsibility for their inaction to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ children and their families by making substantial contributions to The Trevor Project, Trans Life, and other human rights advocacy groups in an effort to regain our trust in the company’s inclusion and equality efforts.”
Their fifth demand is for Disney 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.”
Finally, their last demand is a pledge “to create an LGBTQIA+ brand similar to that of “The Onyx Collective” focusing on LGBTQ+ creators and underrepresented voices.”
What do you make of this planned walkout and the employee demands?