How Disney botched Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ flap


The Walt Disney Co. erred in its handling of the controversy surrounding the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law in Florida to the point that the company alienated its allies on both sides of the political divide, according to current and former executives.

“In a short period of time they managed to piss off both the left and the right,” a former senior Disney executive told Financial Times.

The company initially angered its LGBTQ workforce and their supporters by declining to take a stand against a bill that began circulating in the GOP-controlled Florida state legislature in January.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as it was called by its critics, banned the teaching of sexual or gender identity to students up to fourth grade.

As employee angered simmered, a Disney executive proposed that the company sign on to a letter by the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country’s most prominent LGBTQ advocacy groups, opposing the bill.

Other large firms such as Apple and Amazon added their signatures to the letter, and some at Disney believed that the Mouse House could satisfy their workers and make the controversy go away with minimal damage, according to Financial Times.

But Disney’s new head of corporate affairs, Geoff Morrell, killed the idea, according to Disney executives.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted Disney after the company came out in opposition to the so-called "Don't Say Gay" law.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis blasted Disney after the company came out in opposition to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.
AP

Morrell believed that Disney should avoid taking stands on hot-button cultural issues. Instead, he hoped to use Disney’s lobbying influence to persuade state lawmakers to water down the legislation — it not, spike it altogether, FT is reporting.

Now Disney executives regret not signing the letter — since it would likely have saved the company a lot of trouble, according to FT.

Disney employees were furious when the company initially declined to take a stance against the proposed legislation.
Disney employees were furious when the company initially declined to take a stance against the proposed legislation.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

After the backlash, Disney reversed itself and came out in opposition to the measure. The company released a statement vowing to help defeat the legislation in court.

Disney’s attempt to placate its critics enraged the Republican leadership in Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, who signed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill into law, also moved to strip Disney of its autonomous status over its theme parks in and around Orlando.

Republican state lawmakers in Florida responded by revoking Disney's self-governing status over its theme parks in and around Orlando.
Republican state lawmakers in Florida responded by revoking Disney’s self-governing status over its theme parks in and around Orlando.
GC Images

Disney-backed members control the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the parcel of land that is home to its theme parks straddling Orange and Osceola counties.

The district was created by Florida more than half a century ago to entice California-based Disney to build theme parks in the Sunshine State.

DeSantis, with the stroke of a pen, revoked the district’s special status effective next year.



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