The Walt Disney Company donated $190,000 to Florida‘s Republicans weeks before they began condemning the state’s contentious education bill, it has emerged.
At the beginning of this year, the company gave $125,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and $65,000 to a committee that helps elect Republican state senators.
One of the sponsors of the bill was so angered by Disney eventually speaking out against it that he returned their cash.
The donations, which were disclosed in new campaign filings on Monday, arrived as the state legislative session was getting underway in January.
On January 20, the Parental Rights in Education bill – nicknamed by critics as the Don’t Say Gay bill – was given its first reading at a session of the education and employment committee.
The bill forbids discussion of homosexuality or transgender issues for children from kindergarten to third grade. Critics say it stigmatizes the gay community and is harmful to young people.
Disney gave a $100,000 check to the Republican Party of Florida on January 11 and $25,000 more on January 26.
Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, is pictured on March 28 signing the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill
Joe Harding, a sponsor of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, was angered by Disney condemning the legislation, and handed the campaign donation back to the company
Disney’s tepid response to the controversial bill led to protests and worker walkouts
Employees of Disney in California are seen demonstrating against the bill on March 22
A demonstrator holding a sign takes part in a protest as Disney’s employees demonstrate on March 22 in California
What is the Parental Rights in Education bill?
HB 1557 was introduced by two Republican members of the Florida Legislature – Representative Joe Harding and Senator Dennis Baxley.
They say the bill’s aim is to ’empower parents’ in their children’s education, and make teachers recognize the distinction between ‘instruction’ and ‘discussion.’
‘What we’re prohibiting is instructing them in a specific direction,’ Baxley said about how teachers lead students in a classroom.
‘Students can talk about whatever they want to bring up, but sometimes the right answer is, ”You really ought to talk to your parents about that.”’
The bill applies to children in kindergarten through third grade.
It states that ‘classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur.’
It also requires districts to ‘adopt procedures for notifying a student’s parent if there is a change in the student’s services or monitoring related to the student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being,’ something LGBTQ advocates argue could lead to students being outed to their parents without the student’s knowledge or consent.
It was passed on March 8 in a 22-17 vote. The state House had approved the bill late last month. DeSantis signed it into law on March 28 and it will come into effect on July 1.
Disney also donated $25,000 to Democrat leadership fund.
The bill passed through the state legislature, amid growing protests from the LGBTQ community and from some Disney employees, angered that their company – which employs 77,000 people in the state – did not take more of a stance against the bill.
It was signed into law by Ron DeSantis, the Republican governor, on March 28 and goes into effect on July 1.
In response to the bill, Disney announced it would pause making campaign donations in Florida.
The company also said it hoped that the law was repealed or struck down by the courts. A federal lawsuit has already been filed by a group of LGBTQ advocates. President Joe Biden described the bill as ‘hateful’.
DeSantis, angered by the response, then suggested reviewing Disney’s special status in the state – an agreement signed 50 years ago, when Walt Disney World was being built, that allowed the territory to be self-governing.
Several Republicans said they would return Disney’s donations.
Three of them have done so, Politico reported, returning $8,000 – among them Rep. Joe Harding, the sponsor of the bill.
On Sunday, a transgender heir to the Disney fortune told of their guilt at not doing more to speak out against the bill – addressing the issue for the first time since their father announced to the world that he had a trans child.
Charlee Corra Disney, a 30-year-old high school biology and environmental science teacher, came out as a transgender man who uses the pronouns ‘they/theirs’ to their family four years ago.
Having avoided the spotlight for much of their adult life, Charlee was then thrown into the center of attention last week when their father Roy P. Disney – grandson of the company’s co-founder, and great-nephew to Walt – issued a statement confirming his child was trans.
Roy and his wife Sheri announced that they would match donations to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the country, up to $500,000.
‘Equality matters deeply to us, especially because our child, Charlee, is transgender and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community,’ he wrote in a statement.
Charlee Corra Disney, a 30-year-old teacher, said on Sunday that they wished they had done more to speak out against Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill
Roy P. Disney, grandson of the company’s founder, and his wife Sheri Disney are pictured in October 2013. Last week they announced a grant matching donations to LGBTQ advocacy group Human Rights Campaign
Charlee, who teaches biology, came out to their family four years ago
Charlee told The Los Angeles Times, in an interview published on Sunday, that they were dismayed at Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s signing of the controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which forbids the discussion of homosexuality or transgender issues in classrooms for children through third grade.
Charlee said that they were dismayed at the bill, signed into law on March 28, and wished they had done more at the time to campaign against it.
‘I feel like I don’t do very much to help,’ Charlee said. ‘I don’t call senators or take action. I felt like I could be doing more.’
Charlee said the new bill would isolate young people and make them feel uncomfortable in their own skin.
‘I had very few openly gay role models,’ said Charlee, whose mother remembers Charlee aged two or three tugging her away from the little girls’ shoe section, saying: ‘But mom, I’m a boy on the inside.’
Charlee added: ‘And I certainly didn’t have any trans or nonbinary role models.
‘I didn’t see myself reflected in anyone, and that made me feel like there was something wrong with me.’
Ron P. Disney’s gesture was celebrated on Twitter by his sister Abigail Disney, a documentary maker.
‘Today I am busting with pride at what my brother and his wife have done. So proud so proud so proud!!!’ she said.
On Sunday, Abigail responded to criticism of the family firm for its move to be more inclusive and create more LGBTQ characters.
She said the attacks from right-wing critics were ‘absurd’.
‘There have been gay people whether or not the word was ever spoken,’ she told CNN.
‘It denies the fact that everyone, conservative or not, has a gay friend or a transgender family member.’
DeSantis, angered by condemnation from Disney employees and executives of the bill, has threatened to remove the company’s self-governing privileges it has enjoyed in the state since construction began on Disney World in Orlando in 1967.
‘Disney has alienated a lot of people now,’ DeSantis said on April 1.
‘And so the political influence they’re used to wielding, I think has dissipated.
‘And so the question is, why would you want to have special privileges in the law at all? And I don’t think that we should.’
Abigail Disney said DeSantis, considered a likely Republican contender for the presidency in 2024, was playing a strategic game to win over conservatives.
‘This attack against Disney was so timed and rolled out so strategically that it was really hard for me to imagine that it didn’t come from a series of decisions that got made in the background,’ Disney said.
She said the company’s CEO Bob Chapek, who has been criticized for wavering in his support for protests against the bill, needed to be courageous and take a hard stance.
‘You can’t claim neutrality if you’re supporting the people who write these laws,’ Disney said.
‘But on top of it, there is no neutrality anymore.’
Charlee’s comments and their parents’ grant comes amid a months-long standoff between Disney and the state of Florida, where it employs 77,000 people – a standoff that has seen Chapek criticized by his employees for not being vocal enough, and Florida threaten Disney’s position in the state in response.
Some Republican legislators in Florida are now considering punishing Walt Disney World for taking a public stand against the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill by repealing a 55-year law that allows the company to govern itself.
DeSantis raised revoking Disney’s special arrangement in the state on April 1, and Florida House Rep. Spencer Roach tweeted that lawmakers held two meetings to discuss scrapping the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which he said ‘allows Disney to act as its own government.’
Spencer, a Republican, added: ‘If Disney wants to embrace woke ideology, it seems fitting that they should be regulated by Orange County.’
The 1967 act, which was signed by then-Gov Claude Kirk, a Republican, created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which encompasses about 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties.
Florida House Rep. Spencer Roach tweeted that lawmakers have met twice to discuss repealing the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act, which allows Walt Disney World to govern itself
The 1967 act created the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which encompasses about 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties and is controlled by its landowners, the biggest among them being Disney
The district is governed by its 19 landowners, the biggest of them being Disney World. It is responsible for overseeing land use and providing essential public services, including fire protection, emergency medical services, water services, electricity, sanitation. The district also operates and maintains all public roads and bridges.
Walt Disney’s ‘Magic Kingdom’: How 1967 law allowed the company to govern its vast Florida domain
The Reedy Creek Improvement District, a semi-private, special-purpose government, is controlled by Disney.
It was created in 1967 when then-Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, a Republican, signed into law the Reedy Creek Improvement Act authorizing it to regulate land use, enforce building codes, treat wastewater, control drainage, maintain utilities and provide fire protection at Disney World.
The district is governed a Board of Supervisors that is selected by its 19 landowners, the biggest and most influential of them being Disney World.
The district has the authority to tax the land, and use the revenue to provide essential public services and operate and maintain all public roads and bridges.
Such private governments aren’t uncommon in Florida, which has more than 600 community development districts that manage and pay for infrastructure in new communities.
If the 1967 is repealed by GOP lawmakers, Disney World’s property will fall under the control of Orange and Osceola counties.
Disney World’s special status is now at risk after the entertainment giant condemned the Parental Rights in Education bill – commonly known as ‘Don’t Say Gay’ – which sparked an outrage amid LGBTQ activists and progressives.
Its many critics argue that the law’s true intent is to marginalize LGBTQ people and their families.
Disney, which is Florida’s largest single employer and a major political donor, has found itself at the center of the escalating feud over the law, after progressive employees and customers blasted the company for donating money to all the sponsors of the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and failing to denounce it.
In response to the backlash, which included protests and walkouts, Chapek announced earlier this month that he would be meeting with DeSantis to oppose the bill.
‘I understand our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn’t quite get the job done,’ the CEO said at the time.
After DeSantis signed the bill into law, Disney released a statement, saying: ‘our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.’
DeSantis responded to Disney’s new stance on the law by accusing the company of being dishonest and hypocritical.
‘You’ve got to wonder why is the hill to die on to have transgenderism injected into kindergarten classrooms, or woke gender ideology injected into second grade classrooms. Why is that the hill to die on?’ he asked in an interview with Fox News’ Tucker Carlson.
‘Meanwhile, if we’ve done a bill that prohibited talking about the abuse of Uyghurs in China, Disney would’ve supported that legislation. They won’t say a word about that,’ the Republican governor continued.
DeSantis pointed out that Disney Cruises sail to the Dominican Republic, which has laws that ban gay marriage and legalize discrimination against gay people.
Disney faced backlash for initially failing to oppose the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill after donating money to all of its sponsors
‘So they’re fine doing that and lining their pockets, they’re fine lining their pockets from the CCP, and all the atrocities going on there,’ he continued, referring to the Chinese Communist Party, which the company thanked in the credits of its live-action Mulan reboot.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek announced in March that he would be meeting with DeSantis to oppose the bill
‘But it’s those kindergarteners in Florida that they really want to have transgenderism as part of their core curriculum in school.’
Disney’s about-face on the law prompted condemnation from some conservative employees, and calls for a boycott from the public.
Jose Castillo, who works as a manager at a Disney resort and is also running for Congress in Florida, said his employer’s decision to oppose the law could be ‘bad for business’ as not everyone is a ‘raging liberal’ who works there.
In an interview with Fox News, Castillo argued that many staff were in favor of the bill and the company’s pushback against its own workers was killing democracy.
One Disney employee, writing under the pseudonym Ethan L. Clay, claimed the company’s leaders have ‘surrendered’ to the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) ideology and instilled a culture that forces employees who support the law to remain quiet out of fear of scrutiny or termination.
‘I encourage everyone to ignore the bloviating of Disney executive leadership, from CEO Bob Chapek all the way down to park VPs,’ Clay wrote in a blog post published on Quillette.com.
‘These people are not thought-leaders or cultural revolutionaries.
‘They are cowards held hostage by the prevailing narrative, and they will run in whichever direction that narrative dictates.’
On Thursday, a clip was shared online of a Disney executive admitting that the company is seeking to increase diversity within their ranks because it is good for business, and the embattled CEO apologized to the LGBTQ community ‘for not being the ally you needed me to be’.
Karey Burke, head of entertainment, said that her son had told her: ‘Gen-Z is 30-40 percent queerer than other generations Mom, so Disney better get with it.’
Chapek, the CEO, meanwhile, begged forgiveness from the LGBTQ community.
‘I want you to know that your words have made a real impact on me,’ he said.
‘I understand that we have made mistakes, and the pain that those mistakes have caused.’
The leaders of the entertainment giant were speaking at one of Disney’s ‘Reimagine Tomorrow’ forums, which since September has worked to serve as ‘our way of amplifying underrepresented voices and untold stories as well as championing the importance of accurate representation in media and entertainment.’
It vows that 50 percent of characters and content would be from underrepresented groups by 2022.
Burke, president of Disney’s General Entertainment Content, said in a clip from a session – obtained by journalist Christopher Rufo, who specializes in culture wars – that there was a commercial reason for increasing the number of LGBTQ characters.
Karey Burke, president of Disney’s General Entertainment Content, told a Disney forum on increasing diversity that her son told her: ‘Gen-Z is 30-40 percent queerer than other generations Mom, so Disney better get with it’
She told how, when she headed Disney’s cable channel Freeform, she realized it made business sense.
‘It was very much in the brand ethos of Freeform to be the tip of the spear when it comes to inclusion,’ she said.
‘And we jumped up and down, we celebrated that, nobody stopped us, and it felt great.
‘In part, I think, nobody stopped us because we were targeting Gen-Z and Millennials.’
Generation Z refers to those born between 1997 and 2012, now aged 10-25.
Millennials are born between 1981 and 1996, ranging in age from 26 to 41.
‘We were targeting a younger, I think more open minded…’ Burke continued.
‘And now we know, as my son texted me this morning: ‘Gen-Z is 30-40 percent queerer than other generations Mom, so Disney better get with it.’
Her comments came as Chapek apologized for not being more sympathetic to the challenges confronting the LGBTQ community.
Chapek, who took over in February 2020, has been dogged by questions as to why Disney did not speak out publicly against Florida’s controversial ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, which bans discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in schools among young children.
Chapek said that his team discussed the issues with Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, behind the scenes.
Disney employees walked out of the company headquarters last week to protest the slow response to the Florida law.
Parents hit the company from the other side for what they said was pandering to liberal politics.
In the session, Chapek told the staff he would ‘be a better ally’, and said he had been profoundly moved by the stories his employees told.
‘By now, I hope you have all read my most recent note in which I pledged to be a better ally for the LGBTQ+ community; apologized for not being the ally you needed me to be; and committed to ensuring that our company lives up to its values,’ Chapek said.
‘I meant every word.
‘And that’s what we are here to talk about today.
‘I know we have work to do, and that work starts with listening.’
Bob Chapek, the CEO of Disney, apologized to LGBTQ staff for not being ‘an ally’
The 61-year-old CEO said he accepted he had handled the situation in recent months badly.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek has faced a storm of criticism for his handling of LGBTQ issues
His predecessor, Bob Iger, dug the knife in last week, saying the issue was ‘about right and wrong’.
The two men are reportedly at loggerheads about the direction of Disney, and at the end of last month CNBC reported that many felt Chapek would not last long as CEO.
Iger held the position for 15 years before retiring as one of Hollywood’s most widely respected and liked CEOs.
Chapek, in the session, tried to quell the anger, and said he understood ‘the pain’.
‘I hope that you are as impacted as I’ve been by the voices I’ve heard over the past few weeks,’ said Chapek.
‘I’ve read many emails that have been sent; spoken with LGBTQ+ employees and their allies; met with advocacy groups; and convened my own leadership team.
‘I have been taken by the honesty, the openness and the urgency of their stories.
‘I want you to know that your words have made a real impact on me.
‘I understand that we have made mistakes, and the pain that those mistakes have caused.
‘And I know that our silence wasn’t just about the bill in Florida, but about every time an individual or institution that should have stood up for this community did not.
‘I and the leadership team are determined to use this moment as a catalyst for more meaningful and lasting change.’
Another speaker at the event outlined procedures that Disney had put in place to help people in Disney who were transgender, and their children.
He said that Disney’s benefits team would be able to provide information about what their healthcare policies included.
‘The other big area is gender identity and expression,’ he said.
‘So doing all of this work to ensure our employees and cast can express their gender here authentically and proudly at the company.
‘Coming up with guides to how to change your photo. Information about pronouns.
‘Working with our benefits team to give information about gender affirmation procedures.
‘Both for our employees who are transitioning and trans.
‘But also our employees who have kids who have transitioning.’
An unnamed man explained at the forum that the company was working to make Disney a more trans-friendly workplace
The animation and live-action movie company has already announced that it would increase the number of gay characters in its films.
‘I have heard so much from so many of my colleagues over the past few weeks in open forums, through emails and phone conversations,’ Burke said in a previous forum.
‘I feel a responsibility to speak not just for my self but also for [my kids].’
She defended 20th Century Fox as ‘the home of really incredible, groundbreaking LGBTQIA stories over the years.’
But she said that it hasn’t been inclusive enough.
‘One of our execs stood up and said, ‘You know we only have a handful of queer leads in our content,’ Burke said.
‘I went, ‘What? That can’t be true. And then I realized it is true.’
Disney expressed support for the demonstration in a Facebook post Tuesday morning
Disney has reportedly reinstated a gay kiss in its upcoming Toy Story spinoff amid the criticism. Hawthorne (voiced by Uzo Aduba), a character in the film Lightyear, has a relationship with another female character in the film
Scar from the Lion King has been speculated to be a queer character
Ursula of ‘The Little Mermaid’ has also said to be gender nonconforming
Disney said their sensitivity to nonbinary people is nothing new they are working on eliminating gendered pronouns in their theme parks.
‘Last summer we removed all gendered greetings in relationship to our live spiels,’ Diversity and Inclusion Vivian Ware said at the town hall.
‘We no longer say ‘Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls,’ she said. ‘We’ve provided training to all our cast members so now they know it’s ‘Hello, everyone or hello, friends.’
Disney’s sudden sexual awakening may be a bit of rebranding.
The internet is awash with stories about gay characters in their animated films.
Governor Ratcliffe from ‘Pocahontas’, Ursula of ‘The Little Mermaid,’ and Scar from ‘The Lion King’ have all been speculated to be queer or queer-coded.
Le Fou, the bumbling sidekick in ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is said to be the first openly gay character.
In 2021, Forbes complained in a headline ‘How Many Times Is Disney Going To Introduce Its ‘First’ Gay Character?’