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ESPN announcers protest Florida bill restricting LGBTQ discussion during basketball broadcast

Advocates march at a rally at the Walt Disney Company in Orlando on March 3. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Two ESPN announcers staged a lengthy moment of silence during an NCAA women’s basketball tournament game on Friday as a gesture of solidarity with Disney colleagues who are protesting Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill.

On March 8, the Florida Senate approved the legislation, which Democrats and critics have labeled the “don’t say gay” bill. It would prohibit Florida schools from teaching kindergarten students through third graders about topics relating to sexual orientation and gender.

Florida legislature passes bill to restrict LGBTQ topics in elementary schools

Courtney Lyle and Carolyn Peck, who were announcing Friday’s first-round NCAA women’s tournament matchup between South Carolina and Howard, remained silent on the broadcast at the beginning of the second half, explaining first that they were showing solidarity with colleagues who were protesting the bill. Employees of ESPN, which is owned by Disney, organized a walkout in support of LGBTQIA+ people at 3 p.m. on Friday, which arrived during the South Carolina-Howard game.

“Normally at this time we would take a look back at the first half, but there are things bigger than basketball that need to be addressed at this time,” Lyle said before the start of the second half. “Our friends, our family, our co-workers, the players and coaches in our community are hurting right now. And at 3 o’clock, about eight minutes ago, our LGBTQIA+ teammates at Disney asked for our solidarity and support, including our company’s support, in opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill in the state of Florida and similar [legislation] across the United States.”

“And a threat to any human rights is a threat to all human rights,” Peck added. “And at this time, Courtney and I, we’re going to take a pause from our broadcast to show our love and support for our friends, our families and our colleagues.”

During the halftime show before the second half, ESPN anchor Elle Duncan also took a moment of silence before going to commercial break.

“We thought we were going to come here today and really celebrate a sport that has meant so much and done so much including for so many in the LGBTQIA+ communities, but we understand the gravity of this legislation,” Duncan said. “And because of that, our allyship is going to take a front seat.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has indicated that he will eventually sign the bill, saying last week that the bill would help regulate school instruction and education about sexual orientation.

Disney suspends political donations in Florida after bill restricting LGBTQ discussion

“We are going to make sure parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into some of their school curriculum,” said DeSantis, who accused the media of misinterpreting the bill.

Next Tuesday, Disney workers are expected to take part in a walkout in locations in California and Florida, beginning a series of walkouts scheduled to continue throughout the week according to the activists’ website.

A group of Disney employees, who labeled Tuesday’s protest the “Disney Do Better Walkout,” said in a statement that the lack of action from the company’s leadership had forced them to take action themselves.

“The recent statements and lack of action by TWDC leadership regarding the ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation,” the statement read.

After days of criticism for not speaking out, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said last week that the company, a powerhouse in the state, opposes the bill. The company later said it would pause all political donations in Florida and increase support for advocacy groups fighting such legislation.

“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down,” Chapek wrote in a statement to Disney employees. That prompted DeSantis to criticize what he called the company’s “woke” ideology.

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