Report: Disney Cranked the Money Spigot for Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Sponsors

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday April 12, 2022

Disney CEO Bob Chapek
Disney CEO Bob Chapek  (Source:Associated Press)

New reports reiterate that even as Disney was staying quiet about "Don't Say Gay," it was lavishing money on the measure's sponsors.

UK newspaper the Daily Mail detailed that just after "Don't Say Gay" was first introduced by GOP state lawmakers in Florida on Jan. 20 of this year, Disney forked over a fat check — in the sum of $25,000 — to the Republican Party of Florida.

That largesse followed an even bigger sum that Disney had splashed out on Jan. 11, when it handed the GOP $100,000.

"Disney also donated $25,000 to [a] Democrat leadership fund," the Daily Mail noted.

The sums reported by the Daily Mail echo earlier reports of Disney's generosity to the measure's sponsors, including an NPR piece about Disney having flooded the GOP's coffers.

The torrent of cash is part of a longstanding pattern, according to Popular Information, which noted that "in the last two years, Disney has donated $197,162 to members of the Florida legislature" that backed the measure.

"The bill passed through the state legislature, amid growing protests from the LGBTQ community and from some Disney employees, angered that their company — which employs 77,000 people in the state — did not take more of a stance against the bill," the Daily Mail recounted.

When Disney CEO Bob Chapek finally did speak out, Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis — widely seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2024 — bit the hand that fed his political party, attacking the company as "woke" and accused it of being too closely tied to China. DeSantis then went on to publicly mull taking legal action against Disney by revoking the company's longstanding self-governing status.

Several Florida lawmakers, including State Rep. Joe Harding, a chief architect of "Don't Say Gay," returned money Disney had given them. In returning a reported $3,000, Harding said Disney had surrendered to a "woke mob."

"Don't Say Gay" criminalizes classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity through third grade, but the vaguely-worded measure also outlaws such discussion in all grades where it might be construed as "inappropriate" for the developmental level of the students. The law also encourages parents to sue schools and teachers.

DeSantis signed the bill into law on March 28. A key anecdote he has repeated since then to justify the law has subsequently been shown to be less than entirely true.

But the damage is done: Advocates and students fear "that teachers — even at high school grade levels — will refrain from openly discussing sexuality and gender identity in the classroom to avoid any potential conflicts with parents," the Washington Post noted, with the effect potentially being an erasure of LGBTQ+ history, the withholding of historical facts from students about the struggle for equality, and the muzzling and marginalization of LGBTQ+ youth and students with LGBTQ+ family members.

The law has spawned a host of copycats in other state legislatures, with Ohio GOP lawmakers planning a similar measure, Georgia Republicans proposing a version of the law that would dictate what private schools may teach, and Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick campaigning for re-election on the promise of a similar law in that state.

Meanwhile, proponents of such laws work in lockstep to sexualize the issue and smear educators and advocates who express concern as "grooming children."

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.