Shortly after Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out publicly against Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill today, a very pointed response began circulating internally at the studio. A letter signed by “The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies” took Chapek to task. It refuted, point by point, an internal memo Chapek sent to employees on Monday and also criticized the fact that the company “did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+” at the shareholder meeting.
“Monday’s email, ‘Our Unwavering Commitment to the LGBTQ+ Community,’ rang hollow,” read the LGBTQIA+ letter. It said Chapek’s communication “began with the claim that Disney has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, but Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone. Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the parks, even removing same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s.”
The letter goes on to say the corporation is “capitalizing on Pride” through merchandising, specifically The Rainbow Mickey Collection.
“It feels terrible to be a part of a company that makes money from Pride merch when it chooses to ‘step back’ in times of our greatest need, when our rights are at risk,” the letter asserts.
The “step back” bit is likely a reference to Chapek’s assertion at a shareholders’ annual meeting today that “we chose not to take a public position on [the bill] because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.” It later came out that Chapek had only reached out to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis very recently.
Florida’s controversial bill, officially termed the Parental Rights in Education legislation, 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. It passed through the Sunshine State’s Senate this week and is highly likely to be signed by DeSantis. Yet the boss of one of Florida’s largest employers (approximately 80,000 local employees and growing) argued that a public statement would not help.
Chapek sought to bolster his backchannel argument by saying, “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds.” He insisted, rather, that they can be leveraged by opposing forces.
The employees’ letter points out, however, that “the very email making this claim opened with a corporate statement regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine.” The letter goes on to point out that not only did Disney make that statement, it also paused the release of all future films in Russia. That begs the question why Ukraine merited a public statement — and financial sanctions on Russia — but Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill did not.
Finally, the letter damningly addresses Chapek’s repeated insistence that the best way for Disney to make change is through creating “powerful content that changes hearts and minds.”
We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.
The missive ends by demanding immediate action, pointing out that laws like Florida’s are being considered in a number of states. It also reminds Disney brass that “42% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in 2021,” a statistic that, much like the news out of Ukraine, highlights the daily cost in lives that are the result of silence and inaction.
In another blow to Disney, the donation to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), announced during the shareholder meeting, was swiftly declined by the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer civil rights organization. HRC called on Disney to “build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books.”
Disney did not respond to request for comment from Deadline.
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