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Disney CEO apologizes for not taking stance against Florida LGBT bill: 'I let you down'

Disney World
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

Disney’s CEO has apologized for not taking a stronger stand against a Florida education bill opposed by LGBT activists while the state’s governor is expressing opposition to “woke corporations” dictating public policy.

Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek wrote a letter to employees Friday apologizing for not taking a firmer stance against HB 1557. The bill, which has cleared the state legislature, would ban “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation and gender identity” for kindergarten through third-grade students. 

The bill purports to be “an act relating to parental rights in education” but is derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” a slogan criticized by Gov. Ron DeSantis as a "false" narrative surrounding the legislation. 

As the owner of Disney World and related hotels and businesses affiliated with the destination, Disney has a large footprint in the Sunshine State.

In an email shared by Walt Disney World News Today, Chapek told his employees that he had met with LGBT leaders at the company to discuss the legislation. He noted their disappointment that “the company has not issued a public statement condemning the legislation.”

“I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities,” he wrote. “And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company-and world.”

Chapek defended his decision not to issue a statement condemning HB 1557 in the email.

“As we have seen time and time again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame,” Chapek said. “Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change.”

In response to Chapek’s email, Abigail Disney, a producer and director as well as the grand-niece of the namesake of the Walt Disney Company, posted a Twitter thread insisting that “[t]he times for neutrality are long since over.”

“What is Disney for?” she asked. “Is it for pretending what America is about, or is it for defining a vision for a world in which fantasy, love, kindness, decency and loyalty are bedrock values.”

Warning that the agenda behind HB 1557 was to “brutalize and eradicate” the LGBT community, Disney maintained that “[n]othing about the ‘don’t say gay bill or about Chapek’s memo is consistent with any of these values.”

“Many LGBTQI people and their allies work for or look to Disney for ally-ship,” she argued. ”But Chapek is more worried about right-wing backlash than about his own loyal fans and employees.”

“This is the wrong leadership for the wrong time,” she continued. “There are no sidelines anymore. When one side is asking to wipe the other from the face of the earth, whether for reasons of sexuality, race or any other reason, looking for the sidelines is craven and morally bankrupt.”

Following pushback from Disney and others, Chapek published a second letter to Disney employees Friday, thanking all who reached out to him to share their “pain, frustration and sadness over the company’s response” to the bill. 

“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek stated. 

“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

Chapek vowed to increase financial support for “advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states.”

“We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values,” Chapek added. 

Chapek announced that Disney is “pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.” This announcement came after Disney received criticism for political donations to Republican lawmakers who support the bill. Chapek addressed those donations in his initial letter, saying that the company has given contributions to “both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation.”

In his follow-up letter, Chapek promised to “continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally.”

“I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community,” he concluded. “I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”

Before sending out the memo outlining his opposition to HR 1557, Chapek had a phone call with Gov. DeSantis, who supports the bill. DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted Wednesday that Disney contacted the office to speak with the governor. She said, “this is the first time we have heard from Disney regarding HB 1557.”

“The governor did take the call from Mr. Chapek. The governor’s position has not changed. No in-person meeting has been scheduled yet,” she tweeted. 

“Disney is a family-friendly company that creates wholesome entertainment for kids. The same Florida parents who take their families to Disney also support parental rights in education, because they do not want their young children exposed to inappropriate content about sex and gender theory at school.”

DeSantis elaborated on his conversation with the Disney CEO and doubled down on his support for HB 1557 when meeting with supporters Thursday.

“The chance that I am going to back down from my commitment to students and back down from my commitment to parents’ rights simply because of fraudulent media narratives or pressure from woke corporations, the chances of that are zero,” he said.

In the video obtained by Fox News, DeSantis took a swipe at Disney.

“When you have companies that have made a fortune off being family friendly and catering to families and young kids … they should understand that parents of young kids do not want this injected into their kid’s kindergarten classroom,” the governor said. 

DeSantis further argued that Disney abides by a double standard regarding human rights.

“And I also think that you have companies, like a Disney, that are going to say and criticize parents’ rights, they’re going to criticize the fact that we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms, if that’s the hill that they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China?” he asked. “They don’t say a word about the really brutal practices that you see over there at the hands of the CCP.” 

The governor assured that the state’s policies will not be based on “the musing of woke corporations.”

HB 1557 passed the Republican-controlled Florida House and Senate, and the bill still awaits DeSantis’ signature.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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