Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek apologized to LGBTQ+ employees and announced that the entertainment giant would stop political donations in Florida after facing fierce criticism over its stance (or lack thereof) on Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Chapek told Disney staff in an email obtained by Rolling Stone Friday, March 11. “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
Chapek’s email arrives after several weeks of mounting pressure on him and Disney — which employs 80,000 people in Florida — to speak out against the bill. The Parental Rights in Education bill, which recently passed the Florida Senate and appears to have the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis, would ban classroom discussion on sexual orientation in kindergarten through third grade, and broadly prohibit such discussions further unless they meet broad criteria over age appropriateness. Parents would also have the right to sue over alleged violations.
In his new memo, Chapek said that Disney, on top of pausing all political donations in Florida, would increase its support for advocacy groups to fight similar legislation in other states. The company will also work to create “a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values.”
“Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good,” Chapek said. “I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all… I am committed to this work and to you all and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally. You will hear more about our progress in the coming weeks. I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community. I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on— and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”
Chapek’s initial decision to stay silent on the bill not only frustrated employees internally, but stood in contrast to public statements against it from former CEO Bob Iger, as well as Walt Disney’s own granddaughter, Abigail Disney. The company also came under fire for its donations to various Florida legislators supporting and sponsoring the bill, although the company has also donated to its opponents.
Earlier this week, Chapek garnered fierce criticism from inside and outside of Disney after he tried to address the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in a company-wide email. In the memo, Chapek expressed support for LGBTQ+ employees and communities, but appeared to defend the company’s silence by arguing that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” and claiming he didn’t want anyone to “mistake a lack of statement for a lack of support.”
Chapek was ultimately forced to address the criticism at a Disney shareholder meeting on Wednesday, March 9, where he also took a more forceful stand against the proposed legislation. Disney also tried to make some amends by offering $5 million to LGBTQ+ organizations, but that didn’t exactly go over well, with the Human Rights Campaign rejecting the donation. Chapek also said he spoke with Gov. DeSantis about concerns over the legislation — after which DeSantis promptly turned around and criticized Disney as “woke.”