Human Rights Campaign Refuses Disney Dollars, Wants 'Meaningful Action'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday March 10, 2022

The Human Rights Campaign turned away a donation from Disney, saying it wants "meaningful action" on "dangerous" Florida legislation like the "Don't Say Gay" bill lawmakers recently sent to the governor, Variety reported.

In a March 9 release, HRC noted that Disney CEO Bob Chapek had made "the company's first public statement of opposition to Florida's House Bill 1557," the so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, during a quarterly shareholders meeting.

"After remaining silent as the bill made its way through the Florida state legislature over the past few weeks, Chapek spoke out against pending anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and spoke up for LGBTQ+ people in Florida and across the country," the release recounted, going on to detail that Chapek had "pledged a significant financial donation to LGBTQ+ organizations."

Reports specified that the sum Chapek promised was $5 million.

The HRC made it clear that they would accept no such largesse "until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida's Don't Say Gay or Trans bill, don't become dangerous laws," in the words of the group's interim president, Joni Madison.

Madison credited Chapek for "a step in the right direction," but added that "it was merely the first step...This should be the beginning of Disney's advocacy efforts rather than the end."

Variety also took note of the "backlash" it said has resulted from "a report that Disney has given money to all of the bill's sponsors."

Variety reported that Chapek told shareholders at the meeting he had called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and said that DeSantis "committed to me that he wanted to make sure that this law could not be weaponized in any way by individuals in the state or groups in the state to unduly harm or target gay, lesbian, nonbinary or transgender kids and families."

Such weaponization is exactly what LGBTQ+ equality advocates fear, expressing concerns that students with same-sex parents, or who may be LGBTQ+ themselves, would be silenced and marginalized. Critics note that the bill also weaponizes lawsuits, empowering parents to sue teachers if they think any such classroom discussion has taken place.

"The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address them," Chapek told shareholders, according to The Verge.

The Verge detailed more about what Chapek had to say regarding Disney's initial silence on the bill. The CEO claimed that the company, under his leadership, was "opposed to the bill from the outset," but said that Disney "chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle."

Chapek went on to acknowledge that this strategy "didn't quite get the job done," but added that the company remains "committed to support the [LGBTQ+] community going forward."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.