Bob Chapek Called Out Personally on Disney Investor Call Over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Inaction

The Disney CEO will meet with Gov. Ron DeSantis to signal opposition to the Florida bill but did not outline concrete steps toward pulling funding for homophobic politicians.
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR AIDS HEALTHCARE FOUNDATION - Advocates march at a rally at the Walt Disney Company in Orlando, Fla., spearheaded by advocates from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) on Thursday, March 3, 2022, in Orlando, Fla. The advocates targeted Disney in two near-simultaneous rallies in Orlando and Burbank, Calif., to urge Disney to publicly speak out to oppose Florida's hateful, homophobic "Don't Say Gay" bill targeting LGBTQ+youth, their families, teachers and school counselors that is currently pending in the Florida legislature. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)
AHF Protest at Disney
Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation

Hosted by CEO Bob Chapek, the Walt Disney Company held its annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, March 9 and, inevitably, the subject of the company’s recent inaction over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill came up. Chapek said that he plans to meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss the bill, which this week passed the Senate and is now in the governor’s hands. The bill forbids teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade in public schools, and if signed by DeSantis, will take effect July 1.

On the call, Chapek said that Disney will pledge $5 million for LGBTQ+ advocacy, including a donation to the Human Rights Campaign. But following Chapek’s pledge, shareholders were given the floor to address their concerns over Disney’s past support of backers of the bill, and the company’s muted response in a statement shared by Chapek on Monday.

“You can’t stand on the sidelines when it comes to human rights,” one shareholder said, reading remarks on behalf of his daughter, a Disney cast member as of 2019. “Either the Walt Disney Company stands with the LGBTQ+ community or they betray them. Donating to politicians supporting this bill and choosing not to make a statement is a political statement… I’ve yet to see any real LGBTQ+ representation in a mainstream TV show or movie. I was excited by ‘Owl House’ and the gay films in the worlds of Blue Sky Studios. But those were shut down by Disney.”

The shareholder continued, “If LGBTQ+ content is said to be the focus of the company, where is it? A blink-and-you-miss-it lesbian kiss in ‘Star Wars’ is not representation,” referencing the company’s muted inclusion of LGBTQ+ elements such as in the aforementioned “The Rise of Skywalker” moment and in the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” film. “The Walt Disney Company has great influence in Florida. I’m imploring you, as you’ve just stated you are now committed to doing, to denouncing bills across the country. Please stop financing politicians, choose human rights do better.”

Chapek said, “We unequivocally stand in support of this group… I spoke with Governor DeSantis, and he’s going to give our cast members a forum to express their concerns. And we, as I mentioned, continue to believe we can do a lot of good by bringing people together across the U.S. and across the world,” adding that Disney content continues to make “huge strides” in LGBTQ+ representation. “We believe in legislation going forward as well as advocacy for this group.”

Chapek, echoing remarks in his statement on March 7 that Disney has supported politicians on both sides of the aisle, said, “We donate to different political candidates. We have no idea how they’re going to vote going forward into the future. But what I will say is that we give to both sides of the aisle — to candidates across the board — in all states and all jurisdictions. Therefore, anybody can pretty much take any issue and do a cross-sectional slice of it and say ‘Disney supports this group.'”

The bill’s Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has actively backed anti-gay legislation for years, including laws that would block gay couples from adopting children. Disney has funded Baxley’s political campaigns.

“You can see how difficult it is to thread the needle,” Chapek said in terms of Disney’s political leanings right after another investor excoriated Disney for promoting gay and trans rights and said to Chapek, “Transgender ideology seeks to confuse as many children as possible.”

Chapek then said regarding supporting on both sides of the aisle, “We’re pretty proud of our political-giving construct.”

Another investor, Laura Mixon from the Educational Foundation in Garrison, New York, also criticized Disney for funding politicians who have promoted more restrictive voting rights legislation that could diminish democratic participating and for funding politicians who’ve promoted anti-abortion legislation.

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