UPDATED with response by DeSantis’ office: Disney CEO Bob Chapek finally came out swinging against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, telling shareholders at the annual meeting Wednesday that the company had always opposed the legislation but opted to work behind the scenes to try to influence lawmakers not to pass it.
That appeared to be unsuccessful.
“I understand our political approach, no matter how well intentioned, didn’t quite get the job done,” the chief executive said during the virtual meeting. He said Disney is signing a Human Rights Campaign petition against such bills across the country and donating $5 million for work to protect the LGBTQ+ community.
Chapek also he spoke with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who has agreed to meet with Chapek and some of the company’s LGBTQ+ employees in Florida. “I look forward to visiting with the governor with a small delegation of cast members who are involved in this movement,” the CEO said. He noted that the company will be reassessing its “political giving in Florida and beyond.”
Later Wednesday, a rep for DeSantis confirmed Disney contacted his office for the first time regarding HB 1557, a bill critics call “Don’t Say Gay,” that he took the call, and that his position on the legislation hasn’t changed.
No meeting with Chapek has been scheduled yet, according to a tweet by the spokesperson, Christina Pushaw.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill would effectively ban discussion of the LGBTQ+ community and “sexual orientation or gender identity” in the state’s public schools from kindergarten to third grade.
Chapek’s silence on the legislation was deafening and a statement earlier this week drew more condemnation in and outside the company with its promise to hold “a more fulsome conversation about this” at a company-wide summit planned for April — by which time the proposal may well have been signed into law by DeSantis.
Chapek made his comments not at the top of show but after he’d finished lengthy prepared remarks with no mention of the controversy, and after Disney’s general counsel invited shareholders with questions to queue up electronically at the virtual meeting. “I’d like to take moment to address some concerns I’ve heard from many about the legislation impacting the LGTQ+ community in Florida,” he said.
Here’s it is:
While we have been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill. We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. And we were hoping that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome. But, despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful.
I called Governor DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law it could be used to target [LGBTQ+} kids and families. The governor heard our concerns. He agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address that.
Certainly the outcome in Florida was not what many of us were hoping for – especially our LGBTQ+ employees. And unfortunately legislation targeting their communities is being considered in many other states, which means this fight will go on. So today, we are signing the human rights campaign statement opposing such legislative efforts around the country and pledging $5 million towards organizations including the HRC working to protect LGBTQ rights.
As I wrote to our employees earlier this week, we are committed to supporting community organizations like these so they are equipped to take on these fights. Meanwhile, we are also reassessing our approach to advocacy, including political giving in Florida and beyond.
I understand our original approach, no matter how well intentioned, didn’t quite get the job done. But we are committed to supporting the community going forward.
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