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After criticism over silence, Disney CEO opposes Florida bill restricting LGBTQ topics in schools

Bob Chapek said Disney was ‘opposed to the bill from the outset’ during a shareholder call

Disney CEO Bob Chapek speaks at Disney's California Adventure Park on June 2, 2021. (Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
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Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Wednesday that the company opposes the Florida bill that would restrict LGBTQ topics in schools, breaking Disney’s silence on the proposed policy following days of mounting criticism.

“While we have been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” Chapek said during a shareholder meeting. “Now, we were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. And we were hopeful that our long-standing relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome. But, despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful.”

Florida legislature passes bill to restrict LGBTQ topics in elementary schools

Chapek said the company would sign the Human Rights Campaign statement and pledge $5 million to LGBTQ and human rights’ organizations.

“I understand our original approach, no matter how well intentioned, didn’t quite get the job done. But we are committed to supporting the community going forward,” Chapek said.

Florida state senators on Tuesday approved the legislation, which Democrats and LGBTQ activists refer to as the “don’t say gay” bill, and advanced it to Gov. Ron DeSantis (R). DeSantis has indicated he is likely to sign.

Chapek said he called DeSantis to express concerns on the bill. According to the CEO, the governor agreed to meet with him and LGBTQ members of Disney’s staff.

DeSantis’s office said in a statement that this was the first time his office heard from Disney on the bill and no in-person meeting has been set.

In recent weeks, Disney World employees have protested outside the parks, demanding that the company oppose the legislation.

On Monday, Chapek released a company memo defending the decision to remain silent on the bill.

“I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of a statement for a lack of support,” Chapek wrote. “We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there. And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support.”

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Last month, former Disney CEO Robert Iger spoke out against the bill, saying it would put “vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy.”

Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of one of the Disney co-founders, posted tweets that condemned comments Chapek made in the memo.

“Nothing 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 said in a Twitter thread. “But Chapek is more worried about right-wing backlash than about his own loyal fans and employees.”

Tim Craig contributed to this report.