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

Mickey Mouse icon with gay rainbow flag design at the annual gay pride march in central London
Photo: Shutterstock

Amidst seemingly endless Disney controversy over Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it has recently been revealed that the company’s current and former CEO are barely on speaking terms.

Current CEO Bob Chapek spent 27 years working for Disney before replacing former (and beloved) CEO Bob Iger after he resigned in February 2020.

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Iger had agreed to stay on as executive chairman to help with the transition, but when Covid hit so close to Chapek taking over, Iger announced he would stick around longer than planned.

“A crisis of this magnitude, and its impact on Disney, would necessarily result in my actively helping Bob and the company contend with it, particularly since I ran the company for 15 years!” Iger wrote in an email to the New York Times in April 2020.

This assertion angered Chapek, according to CNBC. He reportedly wasn’t looking for help, nor had he asked for it.

Many close to the pair say that since then, they have had a tense relationship.

According to CNBC, Iger’s steadfast decision to stay strong against Iger “showed chutzpah” but also “put him on an island against a Disney icon.”

Chapek’s vastly different approach to leadership has not been all that well received. He has had a rocky go so far, most recently in his fumbling of the company’s response to Florida’s anti-LGBTQ legislation known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Iger, on the other hand, publicly spoke out against the bill in February. Multiple employees have reportedly called Iger throughout the past few weeks to say how disappointed they are in Chapek for the way he has handled the situation.

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, but for many it was too late. They planned a series of walkouts to protest.

A Twitter account called Disney Walkout posted a message with an open letter declaring that “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.”

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