Disney Suspends Political Donations in Florida Over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill Backlash

Bob Chapek, CEO of Walt Disney

Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The Disney CEO said on Friday the company is ceasing political donations in Florida due to the state’s so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, and he apologized for the company’s earlier silence On the question.

“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I failed you,” CEO Bob Chapek wrote in a statement to colleagues and the LGBTQ+ community released Friday. “I’m sorry.”

The statement doubled down on comments he made in support of the LGBTQ+ community during the company’s annual shareholder meeting on Wednesday.

Chapek and the Walt Disney Company came under pressure this week not to publicly oppose Florida’s parental rights in education bill. The legislation, which was passed earlier this week, bans teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools from kindergarten through third grade.

It has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill and criticized by some who believe the bill could harm already marginalized populations.

Disney, which operates four theme parks and dozens of hotels in Orlando, Florida, has been targeted by activists after it was discovered the company had provided financial support to some of the bill’s supporters within the state legislature.

The company would have donated approximately $300,000 to these funders over the past two years, according to a report by Popular Information, an online news site that tracks and reports corporate political contributions.

Chapek said the company is reviewing its approach to advocacy and will donate $5 million to organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign, that work to protect LGTBQ+ rights.

“I missed the mark in this case, but I’m an ally you can count on – and I’ll be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility and opportunities you deserve,” Chapek said.

The entertainment giant has made diversity and inclusion an important part of its corporate policies and storytelling in theme parks, movies and TV shows. Many felt his silence on the bill was a statement in itself.

“Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good,” Chapek said. “I agree. Yes, we must use our influence to promote this good by telling inclusive stories, but also by defending the rights of all.”

Chapek told shareholders Wednesday that he had contacted Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and sought to meet with him to discuss the bill. DeSantis’ office confirmed Chapek called but said no meeting was scheduled yet, according to a statement provided to CNBC.

DeSantis, a Republican, also doubled. Speaking to supporters in Boca Raton on Thursday, DeSantis said there was no way he would back down from his stance on the bill, according to a video obtained by Fox News.

“You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticize the rights of parents, they are going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgender in kindergarten in first grades,” he said.

“If this is the hill they’re going to die on, then how can they explain lining their pockets with their relationship with the Chinese Communist Party? Because that’s what they do, and they make a fortune, and they don’t say a word about the really brutal practices you see out there at the hands of the CCP.”

“And so in Florida, our policies must be based on the best interests of the citizens of Florida, not the daydream of woke corporations,” he added.

DeSantis’ comments about Disney’s relationship with the Chinese Communist Party were a common criticism of the entertainment company last week. Disney was one of several studios to suspend theatrical releases in Russia following the country’s invasion of Ukraine, but did not make a similar overture in China for the treatment of Uyghurs in the province. in Xinjiang, who face human rights violations.

In 2020, Disney credited Xinjiang government entities in the credits for its live-action adaptation of “Mulan”, which was partially filmed in the province.