“Disney Say Gay” and the Need for Corporate Courage
Carrying signs that demand “Disney Say Gay” and “Disney Do Better,” hundreds of Disney employees have participated in walkouts across the country to protest the company's silence on Floriday’s “Parental Rights in Education Bill.”
"We have been forced into an impossible and unsustainable position,” LGBTQ+ employees and allies said in a statement. “We must now take action to convince [The Walt Disney Company] to protect employees and their families in the face of such open and unapologetic bigotry."
Dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, the legislation is set to pass on July 1st. The bill is deliberately vague, which allows different districts to remove books with LGBTQ+ characters, refrain from covering historical events and figures related to the community, and prevent teachers from talking about LGBTQ+ families.
Previously, Disney had donated money to Republican officials who voted for and sponsored the bill. Only when receiving widespread backlash did Bob Chapek, the CEO of the company, respond by claiming that Disney stands “unequivocally” in support of its LGBTQ+ employees and communities. However, Chapek’s apology was undermined by his attempts to justify Disney’s lack of action; Chapek argued that Disney’s “diverse stories” are more powerful than “any tweet or lobbying effort.”
It should be made clear that Disney’s commitment to “inclusiveness” is not as strong as the company portrays it to be. Pixar, which is owned by the Walt Disney Company, was accused of removing LGBTQ+ content from its films in a letter penned by Pixar employees. The letter claims employees are “barred” from creating LGBTQ+ content and that nearly “every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest.” The hypocrisy is blatant: while Disney outwardly supports - and capitalizes from - the LGBTQ+ community, it allows for the censoring of LGBTQ+ stories.
Chapek’s defense of Disney’s silence is an attempt to avoid politics under the guise of “inclusiveness.” In other words, he prioritized the commercial interests of the company instead of the well-being of LGBTQ+ employees. Profiting from the LGBTQ+ community while actively ignoring the issues the community faces is not new. The most notable example of this is the “branding” of Pride Month. Twenty-five companies, from CVS to Comcast to Walmart, have used Pride Month as a way to expand consumer spending while donating thousands of dollars to the sponsors of anti-trans legislation.
Companies like Disney are comfortable with sticking to “awareness” rather than action. Merchandise and messaging, however, don’t necessarily translate to the support of substantial efforts to protect the community. At the same time, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill proves that when anti-LGBTQ+ action is taken, or when tangible harm to the community is guaranteed, companies like Disney are willing to turn a blind eye.
Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation isn’t the only issue. Last year, Texas passed a bill banning abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, effectively imposing a state-abortion ban. After the bill was passed, major corporations like Exxon Mobil, American Airlines, and AT&T stayed quiet. Corporate cowardice, while improving in recent years, is still a pervading issue.
Companies must be more transparent about political donations and who they actually support. Disney’s employees should be applauded for their work to hold Disney accountable, but their effort must be a signal for all companies to be clear about where they stand.