Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” billwhich would penalize schoolteachers for acknowledging the existence of gay people during class, is on its way to the state Senate with backing from Governor Ron DeSantisinciting outrage among the LGBTQ community and its many allies. Last week, for instance, students all over Florida staged a walkout to protest the bill that’s purportedly designed to protect them. Considering that one of the most visible and powerful corporations in history runs several theme parks in Florida, many of the bill’s critics have looked to the Walt Disney Company to publicly denounce it.
So far, they have been disappointed.
Althoughs have long faced pressure to take a stance on social issues, the practice of doing so corporation has come under the microscope lately. As the protesters hit the streets in response to the police killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020, corporations hit the tweets to express almost identically phrased support for diversity and inclusion. Many of those corporations then experienced a swift backlashwith accusations of mere virtue-signaling rather than implementing real changes in line with those values.
In the years since, animosity toward “woke corporations” has only increased, from critics on both the right and the left. The former attack companies for supporting social justice causes seemingly because they are against those causes while the latter often attack those companies for not supporting more causes—especially when there may be a conflict of interest that prevents companies from doing so. Disney has no easy path forward for the situation in which it currently finds itself.
Even still, by just about any metric, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has not handled that situation very well. In response to mounting demand for the company to rebuke the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Chapek sent out a staff email citing Disney content that promotes tolerance as an implicit rebuke. What would condemning the bill outright do, Chapek seemed to ask, that featuring a gay couple on Modern Familyy hasn’t already accomplished? To his credit, the CEO did also assert the company’s “unequivocal” support for the LGBTQ community.
“I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of statement for a lack of support,” Chapek wrote. “We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there.”
Disney employees, however, felt that his email fell short of the strong response they would like to see. After all, the company announced just a week ago that it would pause releasing its films in Russia, citing the current “humanitarian crisis” in Ukraine. Furthermore, Chapek’s predecessor Bob Iger was in charge when Disney finally embraced Gay Day at its theme parks in the late-’90s, and Iger also took a firm political stance on Georgia’s controversial “heartbeat law” in 2019, threatening to move Disney productions out of the state if it passed.
However, the world has obviously changed since 2019. When Major League Baseball made good on a similar threat to move its annual All-Star game out of Georgia last spring—in response to new voting restrictions seemingly targeted at Black voters—the organization faced a heavy backlashwith many claiming that the revenue generated by the game would have helped some of the very people the law was said to disenfranchise.
If Disney strongly condemns the bill, the company would be painted as part of the Woke Mob from the right, and as hypocritical from the left. If the company does nothing else beyond affirming its general support for the LGBTQ community, that community and its allies may never let them forget it. But if Disney doesn’t seem to have any winning options for how to navigate this situation, perhaps Chapek and his team can better understand now the position of the countless teachers in Florida, who simply want to spread tolerance without losing their jobs or becoming local pariahs.