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Christians talk about Disney, but not to Disney

Disney World
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

I attended the recent annual shareholder meeting of Disney, at which there was a discussion about the company's muted response to the misnamed "Don't Say Gay" bill. The contents of the bill have been widely misreported. For example, it is claimed that the restrictions forbid the discussion of sex in schools. But the prohibition is much narrower than that. Here's the relevant portion:

"Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur  in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards."

FLSenate.gov

So the restriction is on "classroom instruction" and is a restriction on what the school can say, not what students can say. It is not a blanket prohibition in schools, or even in elementary schools - the prohibition is for K-3 only. Further, it doesn't forbid discussion of all sexual matters, just those on orientation and identity. In short, the bill says that teachers can't foist LGBTQ discussions on very young children.

It is understandable, therefore, that Disney was hesitant to crusade against the bill initially, making no public stance against it prior to the annual meeting. Disney's customer base is middle-class families with children. It's hard to imagine (no matter how many imagineers they put on the project) that the typical mom and dad with two small kids that I see on the plane whenever I fly to Orlando are outraged by a proposal to delay trans talk until the kids are in 4th grade. When polls accurately describe the proposal, it receives wide public support (EXCLUSIVE POLL: Over 60% Of Americans Back Florida’s Limits On K-3 Lessons On Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity | The Daily Wire), including majority support among Democrats and Independents, and wider margins of support from Black and Latino participants than the general public.

At the annual meeting, CEO Bob Chapek was under fire during the question and answer period for not taking a public stance against the bill. He explained that he and other members of the team had entered into private discussions with the governor about the bill which were designed to stop it from being "weaponized against trans and gay" youth. He said that he had been encouraged by those meetings and that Governor DeSantis made clear that he was also opposed to using the proposal as a weapon. Further meetings were planned for the future. Later, Chapek elaborated on the decision not to denounce the bill publicly, "As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” he said. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change." (Disney CEO breaks silence on Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill (nypost.com)).

This act of restraint is remarkable given Disney's history of corporate politicking, especially under the previous CEO Bob Iger, (who publicly undermined Chapek by Tweeting against the bill). Polling shows that Americans of both major parties are skeptical about public statements by CEOs about political matters. It was not until a major backlash came from a combination of media, employees and activist investors that Chapek reversed himself, apologizing profusely, condemning the bill and pledging a 5 million dollar grant (of shareholder money, not his own personal money) to Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ-ideology-promoting activist groups. HRC promptly rejected the grant. Chapek listed the many times that Disney had signed on to various campaigns from HRC, to prove what an "ally" it has been. As of now, Disney is still under attack for its initial attempt at working quietly behind the scenes with the governor, including calls for a worker walk-out.

Given such an environment and history, it is remarkable that Disney hesitated at all. All of the pressure at the annual meeting came from one side. The Christian voice was silent; the other voice was organized, loud, and magnified by allied media.

What might happen if Christians had spoken before, during, and after that meeting? Given Disney's initial desire not to get embroiled in a political donnybrook, having two sides debating this issue would have at least created the opportunity for Disney's leaders to point out that there are different shareholder groups with different agendas and that Disney's managers work for all the shareholders, not just some of them.

What I have seen is that conservative Christian media runs a lot of stories that trigger outrage from their audience, and outrage is justified. But outrage is not enough. It is, at best, an initial emotional response, which should then lead to redemptive engagement with the people who have behaved outrageously. It's time for Christians to stop merely talking about Disney (and the like) and start talking to them. Do you have Disney stock in your IRA or 401(k), etc.? If so, you have authority. Start to use it.

Jerry Bowyer is financial economist, president of Bowyer Research, and author of “The Maker Versus the Takers: What Jesus Really Said About Social Justice and Economics.”

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