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Disney is (kind of) fighting Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill

After weeks of public urging, Disney's CEO said the company opposes the Florida bill outlawing primary school lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation.


UPDATE (March 11, 2022, 2:42 p.m. ET): In an email to employees on Friday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced the company is pausing its political donations in Florida in response to the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

On Wednesday, Disney finally took a stance against Florida’s Republican-backed bill that would ban schools from teaching kindergarten to third grade students about gender identity or sexual orientation. 

The state's GOP-led Legislature passed the bill, known by detractors as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, on Tuesday. Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he’ll sign it into law. 

Disney is a major player in Florida's business community, operating several massive theme parks in the state. For years, its iconic Walt Disney World Resort has been the largest employer in Orlando, one of Florida’s most populous cities.  

Disney, which frequently touts its diversity and inclusion efforts, previously shied away from issuing a public opinion on the anti-LGBTQ bill. That, combined with reports that Disney donated money to some of the bill’s backers, led to a wave of outrage. 

But on Wednesday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told shareholders he called DeSantis earlier in the day "to express our disappointment and concern that if legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.”

DeSantis “heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address that," Chapek added.

He said the company’s decision not take a public stance on the bill “didn’t get the job done.” 

Photo Illustration: Mickey Mouse and Florida governor Ron DeSantis
MSNBC / Getty Images

“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,” Chapek claimed, before admitting that strategy had been unsuccessful. 

It’s unclear whether his new strategy — negotiating with a governor dead-set on inflicting anguish through bigoted legislation — will work any better. 

DeSantis' position on the bill "has not changed," his office told CNBC in a statement.

The statement called Disney “a family-friendly company that creates wholesome entertainment for kids" and claimed without evidence that Florida parents who take their kids to Disney World support the bill.

Disney stepping into the arena as its CEO promised may apply the pressure needed stop the “Don’t Say Gay” bill from passing. But there’s also a possibility DeSantis, with his reported aspirations of running for president, stokes a political fight here to garner support from his rabid base.