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‘Infuriated’ Disney staff came close to quitting ‘multiple times’ over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ response

Josh Milton March 21, 2022
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Revellers carry a Disney logo during the Pride in London parade on 06 July, 2019 in London, England

Revellers carry a Disney logo during the Pride in London parade on 06 July, 2019 in London, England. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Inside the magical kingdom, Walt Disney Company employees feel “exhausted” yet “hopeful” as they prepare to walkout against CEO Bob Chapek.

At issue: Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, blasted by critics as the ‘Don’t Say Gay‘ bill, that would ban classroom discussion of LGBT+ identities before fourth grade.

As the state’s largest private-sector employer, Disney faced heat for not publicly condemning the bill. Reports that the company donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawmakers who backed the bill only added gasoline to the fire.

When Chapek temporarily paused donations, though, it was too late. The law had already passed the state’s legislature and, in the eyes of many of Disney’s queer workers, it simply was not enough.

Since last week, LGBT+ Disney staff and their allies have staged daily 15-minute digital walkouts, culminating with an in-person walkout Tuesday (20 March).

To some bogged down staffers, it was protest or quit the company altogether.

In a joint interview, LGBT+ workers told PinkNews that it’s hard not to go a day without hearing about the demonstrations – and allies are more than ready to hear their “marching orders”.

Disney staff feel ‘exhausted’ yet electrified by company-wide support to walkouts

Organising as the Disney Do Better group, they said: “The conversation is everywhere, it’s hard to go any real length of time without hearing about it whether or not you’re directly involved with organising.

“People want to know what’s happening, how they can help, and what their marching orders are because everyone is fired up.”

It’s difficult to use just one word to sum up the feelings of the more than 203,000 people the Walt Disney Company employs, but there’s certainly a common theme: exhaustion.

“It’s generally been a constantly exhausting experience for all of the LGBTQIA+ community inside Disney,” they said, “and our allies have taken notice of that.”

The walkout includes staffers from Disney’s corporate offices, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Bento Box, Disney Television Animation the Disney Animation Studio, and more, according to organisers.

Bob Chapek speaks on stage in a suit
Disney CEO Bob Chapek. (Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images)

Earlier this month, Chapek refused to publicly oppose SB 1834. A Disney helmed by Chapek is one that feels “corporate statements do very little” but “diverse stories” are “more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort”, he wrote in an internal memo.

“Infuriating, frustrating, and upsetting in every way,” Disney Do Better Walkout members said of Chapek’s response.

“Some people even felt the desire to quit multiple times because they weren’t convinced he had our backs.”

As the company’s former CEO Robert Iger did what many hoped Chapek would – denounce the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill – frustrated voice actors, writers and more amped up the pressure for Chapek to act.

The 61-year-old, given the keys to the Disney kingdom in 2020, eventually admitted that he “let [the company] down” in a company-wide memo.

“I missed the mark in this case,” he wrote, “but am an ally you can count on.” He said he would donate $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign – the LGBT+ charity refused the donation until Disney takes “meaningful action” against the bill.

As Disney braces for further walkouts, ‘exhausted’ LGBT+ staff feel ‘a sense of hope’

In an open letter published to WhereIsChapek.com, a website created by Disney Do Better, workers handed Disney bosses a blueprint to rebuilding trust between the company and LGBT+ people.

Among their demands, improving LGBT+ representation, permanently stopping donations to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ supporters and pulling back from Florida until the “hateful” legislation is scrapped.

“It’s certainly a piece of the puzzle of creating a more inclusive and safe world for the LBGTQIA+ community,” organisers said, “but what is the most important is that they are not giving money to the creation of weaponized, and hateful legislation.”

Disney has reportedly given $300,000 to those who voted for the bill, an analysis from Popular Information found. At least three Disney entities cut cheques for the bill’s top backers around $4,000 combined for their 2022 re-election campaigns.

Guests walk down Main Street at the Magic Kingdom Park in Walt Disney World Resort. (Kent Phillips/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images)

When it comes to representing LGBT+ lives on the silver screen, Disney Do Better members had some tips for storytellers, especially considering that Disney bosses have allegedly edited out LGBT+ representation from some films altogether.

Wrapping LGBTQIA+ representation in the word ‘authenticity’ can be a trap,” they said.

“Let us exist in any way LGBTQIA+ storytellers want in order to tell the story that’s in their hearts.

“We should be able to exist as ridiculous, out of this world archetypes just as much as we should be able to exist as grounded, salt of the earth ones.”

As the walkouts rumble across computer screens, Disney’s internal Pride groups are adding to the pressure for Disney bosses to act.

And LGBT+ Disney staff know that tomorrow, they’re risking their livelihoods – their dreams – by walking out for the day as it is not a legally protected action.

But as staff set the Zoom backgrounds to Pride flags and out-of-offices are switched on, Disney staff feel something else other than exhaustion: hope.

“There is a sense of hope,” they said, “that because we’re all so collectively upset, something positive will come out of all of this.”

More: Disney, Florida

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