For weeks, the Walt Disney Company has been battling extreme discontent and anger within its ranks. Thousands of Cast Members felt like Disney did not have their backs when it remained silent on the passing of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill. The bill would prohibit educators from talking about things like gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. Critics have dubbed the bill the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and worry that it would target the LGBTQ+ community.
After mounting pressure, Disney made a statement on the bill, but it didn’t hit the mark. Many felt that it didn’t say anything. After that, Disney CEO Bob Chapek sent an email to staff saying that he stood with LGBTQ+ Cast Members. However, he did not condemn the bill, and the email only further upset already let-down Cast Members. Then, Chapek made a firmer statement and denounced the bill at the Annual Shareholders Meeting. He also said that he would be meeting with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis said that a meeting with Chapek had not been scheduled. A spokesperson for the Governor said that his position on the bill had not changed. DeSantis then accused Disney of being “woke” and called the company put for its business dealings with China.
It now seems like Bob Chapek has had enough of the Governor and the controversial bill. On March 11, Chapek announced that Disney would be pausing all political donations to Florida politicians.
And in a move rarely seen in corporate America, Chapek emailed all staff, apologizing for his prior actions. The email, which was shared with The Hollywood Reporter, said:
To my fellow colleagues, but especially our LGBTQ+ community,
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. 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. 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. 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.
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.
Prior to this memo, the Disney CEO had repeatedly said that the best thing Disney could do was continue to create inclusive content. However, now the company will be taking a more active role in protecting the rights of its Cast Members. Chapek admitted that he “missed the mark” but wants his staff to know that he is an ally to them and will be working hard to prove that.
During the Shareholders Meeting, Chapek said that the company would be donating $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign. The HRC rejected that offer and said that Disney needed to do more to fight for some of its most vulnerable Cast Members. It looks like Chapek took that message to heart and is now making a more concerted effort to fight for those who make Disney the admired company that it is.