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New Disney CEO sorry to see company 'battle' with Florida over parental rights bill

Disney World
Public Domain/Wikimedia Commons

The new CEO of the Walt Disney Company has expressed regret after the company publicly opposed a Florida law preventing school officials from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity with students in kindergarten through third grade, drawing a response from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. 

Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke at a town hall with Disney employees Monday following his Nov. 20 return to the post he held from 2005 to 2020. Video footage of the meeting was posted online by Christopher Rufo, a writer for City Journal and fellow at the conservative think tank Manhattan Institute.

Iger was asked about Disney's advocacy against the Florida HB 1557 under former President Bob Chapek. Iger responded: "I was sorry to see us dragged into that battle."

The Parental Rights in Education bill, which prohibits schools from withholding information about students' mental, physical and emotional health from parents as well as discussing LGBT issues in grades three and younger, was criticized by Chapek as a "challenge to basic human rights." Chapek even spoke with DeSantis to lobby against the bill after LGBT Disney employees voiced frustrations the company hadn't taken a harder stance earlier.

In response to Disney's activism, the Florida legislature approved a bill dissolving the Reedy Creek Improvement District that gives the Walt Disney World theme park rights and privileges as a special administrative tax zone. Under the special tax zone, Disney had exemptions from many county and state regulations. 

In his talk with employees, Iger vowed to work to "quiet things down" after the turbulence between the corporation and the state of Florida. He said the company becoming "embroiled in controversy" was "distracting," adding "it can have a negative impact."

"The state of Florida has been important to us for a long time," Iger added. "We have been very important to the state of Florida. That is something I am extremely mindful of and will articulate if I get the chance but I don't have the details at all yet about what the ramifications are of the decision that was made by the state of Florida and whether we intend to do anything about it."

DeSantis, a Republican who signed the bill into law earlier this year, reacted to Iger's remarks during an appearance on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" Tuesday. The governor insisted that "we didn't drag them" into the political battle but rather, "they went in on their own and not only opposed the bill, they threatened to get it repealed." 

"These are parents' rights, important policies in our state that are very popular, and so they brought this on themselves. All we did was stand up for what's right," DeSantis asserted. 

In a Nov. 20 statement, the Walt Disney Company announced that Iger, who previously served as CEO of Disney for 15 years, is returning to the company to replace the ousted CEO Chapek.

Chapek, who LGBT activists initially condemned for not coming out strong enough against House Bill 1557, became the face of Disney's outspoken advocacy and issued an apology featuring a more forceful condemnation of the legislation.

Earlier this year, Rufo published video footage documenting the company's efforts to incorporate LGBT ideology into children's programming at an "all-hands meeting" about the parental rights bill.

The company's LGBT activism has been a source of strife, prompting several employees to write a letter calling for a "politically neutral Disney." Writing anonymously, the employees noted that the company's LGBT activism is one of many examples of how Disney had become "an increasingly uncomfortable place to work for those of us whose political and religious views are not explicitly progressive."

In recent years, Disney has incorporated more LGBT characters and storylines into its programming.

"This company has been telling stories for 100 years, and those stories have had a meaningful, positive impact on the world, and one of the reasons they have had a meaningful, positive impact is because one of the core values of our storytelling is inclusion and acceptance and tolerance, and we can't lose that," Iger said. 

He added that he doesn't think "telling stories and attempting to be a good citizen of the world" is political. 

The new animated movie "Strange World" features what is said to be the first openly gay lead character in a Disney film. After a week, the film has grossed just over $29 million in theaters worldwide. 

The film's earnings thus far constitute a small fraction of its $180 million budget and remain far short of the up to $40 million it was expected to gross in its opening weekend. Polling conducted by The Trafalgar Group earlier this year revealed that 70% of Americans considered themselves less likely to do business with Disney after learning of the company's LGBT activism. 

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

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