Facing rising outcry, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has decided to play a political and cultural version of a church mouse when it comes to Florida’s new ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.
With the openly discrimatory and controversial Parental Rights in Education legislation scheduled for a vote this week in the Sunshine State’s Senate, the boss of one of Florida’s largest employers is sitting on his hands, for now.
“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” said the Disney exec in an email sent out to staff this morning. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame,” Chapek added. “Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change.”
With hand on bureaucratic heart, the man who used to run DisneyWorld and other theme parks for the company said “we are going to have a more fulsome conversation about this at the company-wide Reimagine Tomorrow Summit in April.” Timing that will likely have seen Florida Governor and potential 20124 POTUS candidate Ron DeSantis already having signed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill into law.
If that occurs, virtually all discussion or teaching about the LGBTQ+ community and “sexual orientation or gender identity” will be banned in the state’s public school system from kindergarten to the 3rd Grade. Besides the ban itself and the effect it will have directly on younger students, including those from single sex parented families, another concern many critics of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ have is the long-term spillover through students lives. With almost 20 other states contemplating similar legislation, this latest lurch to the far-right has become a renewed strategic front in America’s culture wars — a battlefield Disney is declining to step on, for now.
As the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill advanced through legislative channels in Florida, Chapek’s predecessor took to social media late last month to with a fairly unequivocal stance:
Heading into a shareholders’ meeting on March 9, Chapek’s non-statement Monday also comes after long-time critic Abagail Disney took the company to task.
“When laws are being passed that are this hateful and dripping with prejudice, there is no neutrality. Not saying anything is saying a lot,” tweeted the daughter of Roy E. Disney and great-niece of Walt Disney on March 3. Right after the second tweet from the Disney heir, the company issued a statement via GMA that did not directly address the Florida bill or respond to Abagail Disney but instead insisted, “The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce” — which is kind of what Chapek said in a longer fashion today in a further attempt to contain the PR spill.
Disney has close to 80,000 employees in Florida as it continues to move most of its Southern California-based jobs not fully dedicated to Disneyland in its Parks, Experiences and Products Division to a new regional facility in central Florida.
Stressing that the House of Mouse is in step with “Disney LGBTQ+ leaders,” wider members of the LGBTQ+ community and others for the “same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world,” Chapek notes “where we may differ is in the tactics to get there.”
To further that point the CEO tossed out titles like Encanto, Black Panther, Pose, Reservation Dogs, Coco, Soul, Modern Family, Shang-Chi, Summer of Soul, and Love, Victor as examples of where Disney’s true heart supposedly lies. “These and all of our diverse stories are our corporate statements—and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort,” Chapek said.
Seeking to get in front of one element of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill that has already tainted the bipartisan contributing Disney, Chapek did say that newly minted Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Geoff Morrell, whose brief includes government affairs and public policy, would be opening the books on who the company writes donation checks to. The CEO asserted that the former Pentagon and BP spokesman “will be reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world—including political giving—as he begins to integrate the communications, public policy, government relations and CSR teams.”
Read Bob Chapek’s full memo here:
Team,Before getting to the heart of my message, I want to acknowledge all those impacted by the invasion of Ukraine, especially our team in Europe and our employees around the world who have family in the region. This is an unimaginably difficult time, and my thoughts are with you. I also want to thank the ABC News team covering the horrific events there. Their courage and dedication to informing the world during this crisis is exemplary. On Friday, I met with a small group of Disney LGBTQ+ leaders to discuss controversial legislation pending in Florida that would impact their communities. I want to thank them for a meaningful, illuminating, and at times deeply moving conversation. I told the group I would write to the entire company with my thoughts on the issues we discussed. I wish every one of our employees could have heard not just the passionate voices in the room, but the bravery, honesty, and pride those voices expressed. It is a conversation I will not forget. One common theme was disappointment that the company has not issued a public statement condemning the legislation. That disappointment was compounded by the fact that, while not perfect, our company has a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community—and in fact, has played an important role in the personal journeys of so many of our employees. I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company—and world. I understand that the very need to reiterate that commitment means we still have more work to do. I also believe you deserve an explanation for why we have not issued a statement. We are going to have a more fulsome conversation about this at the company-wide Reimagine Tomorrow Summit in April, but I will preview that discussion now as it is so timely. As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change. I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of a statement for a lack of support. We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there. And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support. There’s a reason content is at the top of this list. For nearly a century, our company’s stories have opened minds, inspired dreams, shown the world both as it is and how we wish it could be, and now more than ever before, represent the incredible diversity of our society. We are telling important stories, raising voices, and I believe, changing hearts and minds. Encanto, Black Panther, Pose, Reservation Dogs, Coco, Soul, Modern Family, Shang-Chi, Summer of Soul, Love, Victor. These and all of our diverse stories are our corporate statements—and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort. I firmly believe that our ability to tell such stories—and have them received with open eyes, ears, and hearts—would be diminished if our company were to become a political football in any debate. Powerful content that changes hearts and minds only springs from inclusive cultures, which not only attract and retain the best and most diverse talent, but also give those employees the freedom to bring forth ideas that reflect their lives and experiences. We must work together to ensure Disney always remains such a place. In terms of our communities, we are and will continue to be a leader in supporting organizations that champion diversity. In 2021, we provided nearly $3 million to support the work of LGBTQ+ organizations. And, we have a long history of supporting important events like Pride parades, and for being there in times of need, just as we were following the Pulse shooting in Orlando. All this is why we have earned a 100% rating from the Human Rights Campaign for 16 years in a row. Finally, I want to address concerns about our political contributions in Florida. While we have not given money to any politician based on this issue, we have contributed to both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation. I can also share that Geoff Morrell, our new Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, will be reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world—including political giving—as he begins to integrate the communications, public policy, government relations and CSR teams. Our company has been a force for inclusion for a long time—and that will not change on my watch. We all have a role to play in this effort—from the Cast Members who make magical memories for fans and families of all kinds, to storytellers who take audiences on journeys to new storyworlds that illuminate our own, to everyone in between who is responsible for ensuring our culture lives up to our values. I hope we will all continue rowing in the direction of a better tomorrow.
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