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Disney bosses promise huge increase in queer characters in major step for LGBT+ representation

Lily Wakefield March 30, 2022
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Elsa is one of Disney's many, many cis, straight leads – despite fervent fan theories that she's part of the LGBT+ community. (Disney)

Disney wants 50 per cent of its TV characters to be from underrepresented groups such as the LGBT+ community and people of colour, according to a leaked meeting.

The revelations come from clips of a Walt Disney Company meeting titled “reimagine tomorrow”, leaked to social media by Conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who has been credited with creating the Conservative panic over critical race theory.

Although the clips Rufo posted were obviously intended to spark outrage among anti-LGBT+ Twitter users, they actually point to some positive steps being taken by Disney.

One clip shows Karey Burke, president of Disney General Entertainment, which covers The Walt Disney Company’s streaming platforms Disney+, Hulu and Star, as well as its cable and broadcast networks including ABC, The Disney Channel and FX.

Burke explains to staff that she is the parent of two queer children, one of whom is trans and one of whom is pansexual.

Although not shown in the clip, Rufo tweeted that Burke had promised, going forward, that 50 per cent of characters in the division’s content would be from minority groups.

In another clip, Allen Martsch, production coordinator at Disney Television Animation which produces all of Disney’s animated TV series, as well as some direct-to-TV films, said that his team were working on including more trans and gender non-conforming characters in animations.

Giving an example of their work on the upcoming Disney Channel animated series Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, Martsch said: “It takes place in modern-day New York, so we’re making sure that that’s an accurate reflection of New York.

“I’ve put together a tracker of our background characters to make sure that we have the full breadth of expression… [We also realised] all of our gender non-conforming characters were in the background.

“So it’s not just a numbers game of how many LGBTQ+ characters you have. The more centred a story is on a character, the more nuanced you can be with their story. Especially with trans characters – you can’t see if someone is trans. There’s not one way to look trans.

“And so the only way to have these canonical trans characters, canonical asexual characters, canonical bisexual characters, is to give them stories where they can be their whole selves.”

Rufo also posted a clips of Nadine Smith from Equality Florida, explaining to staff the real and present danger represented by the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, and of the company’s diversity and inclusion manager Vivian Ware describing how the company’s theme parks were becoming more inclusive by doing away with gendered greetings for guests.

Disney has promised to ‘stand up’ for LGBT+ folk, and work to repeal ‘Don’t Say Gay’

Disney has made headlines around the world in recent weeks, following its muddled response to Florida’s anti-LGBT+ ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law.

Initially, it received huge backlash over its political donations to Republicans pushing the bill, which the company defended, insisting that the “biggest impact” it could make was by creating “inspiring content”.

Amid employee walk-outs and protests organised by the Disney Do Better group, CEO Bob Chapek apologised and paused donations, and since then The Walt Disney Company has been working hard to rekindle its pro-LGBT+ image.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, also known as House Bill 1557 or the Parental Rights in Education bill, into law on Monday (28 March). 

In a statement on Monday, The Walt Disney Company said: “Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.

“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.

“We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

Responding, DeSantis slammed coverage of the bill by ABC News, owned by Disney, and declared that the company had “crossed the line”.

According to Deadline, he said: “For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to work to actively work to repeal it, I think one, was fundamentally dishonest but two, I think that crossed the line.

“For them to say that they’re going to work to repeal substantive protections for parents, as a company that’s supposedly marketing its services to parents with young children, I think they crossed the line.”

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