By Soorin Kim
The Walt Disney corporation has often been accused of overcommercializing gay pride. While perfectly happy to rake in the earnings from selling rainbow Mickey T-shirts, the company refuses to engage in activism in any real way, merely tiptoeing around issues of substance to collect cash from conservative Christians and LGBTQ+ fans alike.
Employees in Burbank, Calif. forced the company to confront their tepid stance on issues of gay rights last week. Hundreds of protestors left the animation studio, marching around the perimeter of Disney headquarters to demand that the corporation condemn the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill.
The “Don’t Say Gay” Bill is a horrific piece of legislation that bans classrooms from promoting discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels.
It will undermine the meager support that queer children were previously receiving in Floridian public schools and it will almost ensure a half baked approach to sex education, leaving young students across the state in the dark.
The bill also requires parental notification from a teacher if a student dares to even ask a question about being gay or transgender. This concerns many activists, as it might lead to a forced outing of a young person to parents who may not be receptive to the idea of an LGBTQ+ child. In short, this bill is dangerous. It was signed into law by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on March 28 and is set to be in effect by July 1.
But while “Don’t Say Gay” was still gaining traction a few weeks ago, the CEO of Disney, Bob Chapek, came out with an infuriatingly lukewarm statement that refused to directly oppose the bill. Instead, he argued that Disney’s commitment to producing diverse stories was more important and relevant in changing attitudes than a corporate statement.
Chapek quickly apologized and rescinded this company-wide memo after many reacted with anger. Some pointed out the fact that the Disney corporation had in the past donated to DeSantis. These outcries, along with DeSantis himself denouncing Disney as a “woke” corporation, led to the company cutting ties with the Republican party.
Aside from ending contributions to DeSantis’ campaign, Disney also held a town hall meeting the day before the planned walk out, hosting LGBTQ+ employees who spoke out about their experiences with the company. As part of a Reimagine Tomorrow initiative, the company used the meeting to publicly vow to make more inclusive content in the future.
Despite the many attempted supplications, Disney failed to quell their angry employees, and last Tuesday the masses carried out the protest, drawing attention from the American public to the hypocrisies and faults of the media giant.
The swarm of anger eventually led Disney to openly express its opposition to “Don’t Say Gay,” even promising to help repeal the bill from law.
Despite the company’s prior missteps and the negative press from last week, the Bill might represent a positive turning point for Disney. While it is terrible that a portion of Disney’s profits ever went to fund DeSantis and that the corporation refused to take a stand against this piece of legislation prior to public controversy, the fact that they felt pressured to change at all is a revolutionary new development in corporate culture.
In the 1990s, it would have been an activist’s pipe dream for Disney to strongly come out against a homophobic bill. After all, this was the company that courted conservative families in Florida through wholesome images of straight, white fairy tale endings. Who would expect a PR statement as “radical” as this?
You might look at Disney’s subsequently resolute reactions to “Don’t Say Gay” as part of the recent tide of power that marginalized groups have been gaining over corporations.
We have come to learn how best to influence the public at large: through the massive conglomerates that dominate our lives.
Minorities have grown to be such a strongly united force that can organize to collectively hit companies where it hurts most — their wallets — and grasp a heretofore unforeseen power.
It’s astounding that nowadays we find that corporations are scrambling to cater to us, albeit only so we can remain their customers. But still, cynicism aside, the fact that we have the power to damage the reputation of such a powerful empire as Disney is pretty amazing.
Nevertheless, despite the protests of Disney, the bill is set to take effect in the coming months.
Will Disney actually make good on its promises to help strike down this horrendous act?
Pressure from gay rights groups almost gauruntees it, and with the support of such an influential business, we might actually stand a chance of contesting DeSantis and his followers. “Don’t Say Gay” might be the domino that pushes Disney into a new era which promises more ethical political contributions and better gay representation on the big screen.