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Disney employees are walking out today to protest company’s response to “Don’t Say Gay” bill

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The Disney Gay Community in an Orlando Pride paradePhoto: Shutterstock

Disney employees are engaging in a “full-scale walkout” today to protest the company’s lackluster response to Florida’s discriminatory “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”

For the past week, disgruntled employees planned daily 15-minute walkouts, both virtual and in-person. All was planned to culminate in today’s larger demonstration.

Related: Disney’s current and former CEO on bad terms as company sorts out botched “Don’t Say Gay” response 

An open letter posted to the “Disney Walkout” Twitter account last week declared, “The recent statements by The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) leadership regarding the Florida legislature’s recent ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation.”

“Primarily, those statements have indicated that leadership still does not truly understand the impact this legislation is having not only on cast members in the state of Florida, but on all members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the company and beyond.”

The letter notes that the walkout isn’t being organized by the company’s business employee resource groups or Disney PRIDE organizations. It also notes that the full-scale walkout isn’t legally protected, meaning that anyone who participates could be fired.

The group planning the walkout has also released a list of demands, which includes the creation of a brand focusing on LGBTQ creators and a focus on expanding Disney’s content catalog to better represent LGBTQ people.

According to WESH, which struggled to find employees who had actually walked out today, those participating may not have physically walked off the job. Employees are staying home from work, working from home, calling out sick, or leaving away messages in their email explaining their support of the walkout.

The Associated Press said it isn’t clear how many employees are participating, and that unionized workers have been advised against doing so.

In the meantime, Disney brands are standing with employees. On its Instagram account this morning, Walt Disney World posted a message of solidarity.

“To ALL who come to this happy place, welcome. Disney Parks, Experiences and Products is committed to creating experiences that support family values for every family, and will not stand for discrimination in any form. We oppose any legislation that infringes on basic human rights, and stand in solidarity and support our LGBTQIA+ Cast, Crew, and Imagineers and fans who make their voices heard today and every day.”

 

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Disney+ also tweeted support, stating that it “stands by our LGBTQIA+ employees, colleagues, families, storytellers, and fans, and we strongly denounce all legislation that infringes on the basic human rights of people in the LGBTQIA+ community – especially legislation that targets and harms young people and their families.”

And in a Twitter thread this morning, ESPN wrote that it “believes in inclusivity and denounces legislation and actions across the United States that infringe on any human rights. We stand with our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, friends, families, and fans.”

The company then expressed its commitment to “never stop telling stories about LGBTQIA+ athletes” and proceeded to share several in the thread.

The controversy began when it was revealed that Disney had donated money to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill’s main sponsors. In addition, Chapek initially refused to publicly condemn the measure. He wrote that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and “are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.” Instead, he highlighted the company’s commitment to telling diverse stories.

Chapek then said he would meet Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to discuss somehow preventing the bill from being weaponized against LGBTQ people. In response, DeSantis said that he refused to bow down to “woke corporations” and released a video accusing LGBTQ people of trying to  “inject transgenderism into kindergarten.”

Trying to do damage control, Disney said it would donate $5 million to  the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) and other LGBTQ rights organizations. HRC rejected its donation and said Disney needed to take more direct action to combat the bill.

Soon after, employees at Pixar claimed that Disney censors LGBTQ content and that executives had cut every attempt to show same-sex affection or LGBTQ characters.

Chapek eventually apologized to employees for not denouncing the bill, and has since taken a stronger stance against it. But for many, it’s simply too late.

On Monday, Disney released a statement to CNN stating, “This morning we held a virtual company-wide conversation on anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and Disney’s response to it. We know how important this issue is for our LGBTQ+ employees, their families and allies, we respect our colleagues’ right to express their views, and we pledge our ongoing support of the LGBTQ+ community in the fight for equal rights.”

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