Los Angeles (AFP) – Entertainment and theme park giant Disney has halted all political donations in Florida after an outcry among LGBTQ staff over its silence on perceived “anti-gay” legislation, its CEO said Friday.
Florida’s state senate this week passed a bill banning lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in elementary schools, the latest effort by Republicans in the United States to reshape education policy along conservative lines.
Opponents and LGBTQ rights activists lobbied against what they call the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which will affect kids in kindergarten through third grade, when they are eight or nine years old.
Disney, which has a huge presence in the southern state in the form of its Walt Disney World resort, had faced weeks of criticism both internally and externally over its lack of public response.
Staff at Disney-owned Pixar Animation Studios said they were “disappointed, hurt, afraid and angry” over their company’s silence on the Florida legislation.
On Friday chief executive Bob Chapek told them he was sorry the company had let them down.
“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” he wrote in an email, published by Variety.
“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
Chapek said Disney would be bolstering its support for campaigns aimed at preventing similar legislation in other states as part of an effort to “ensure our advocacy better reflects our values.”
“And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”
Chapek said the company had to do more, but insisted he had the backs of sexual minority staff.
“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.”
The Florida legislation, championed by possible presidential nominee Governor Ron DeSantis, is part of nationwide effort by Republicans who feel they are wresting back control from liberal policies they say undermine traditional family values.
Similar moves are afoot in other Republican-led or Republican-leaning states, chiefly in the south.
They include a plan by Texas Governor Greg Abbott to label as “child abuse” medical treatments considered in progressive states to be standard care for transgender teenagers.
The political fight leaves businesses in the often-uncomfortable position of having to take sides on an issue that may pit one group of customers or staff against another.