Mike Schneider and Brendan Farrington – Associated Press
Orlando, FL (AP) – Although only a small percentage of Walt Disney Co. employees. participated in a walk on Tuesday, organizers felt they had won a moral victory when the company issued a statement condemning anti-LGBTQ legislation that caused outrage among employees. .
During the day, staff pockets held demonstrations in various locations across the country, including near Walt Disney World in Orlando and Walt Disney Animation Studios in California. According to a Disney spokesman, there were no breaks in operations.
Last October, Disney hired 190,000 employees, about three-quarters of whom worked in the theme park division.
The debate has forced the company to balance between the expectations of a diverse workforce and the demands of an increasingly polarized, politicized market.
On the one hand, LGBTQ supporters and Disney staff are calling for a protest against CEO Bob Chapek’s slow response to public criticism of Florida law, which opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Tell Gays” bill. The The law is awaiting signature by the governor bars teaching sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
On the other hand, politicians like Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis have accused the entertainment conglomerate of seeking to awaken politics. Earlier this month, the campaign decided to temporarily suspend political contributions in Florida. DeSantis, who aspired to a Republican base on cultural warfare, is seen as a presidential candidate for 2024.
Union leaders of tens of thousands of union workers at Disney theme parks in Florida and California have said they see no impetus to withdraw among their members, advising them not to do so because it will be challenging contractual obligations.
Evan Power, chairman of the Leon County Republican Party, said he thought a large minority of Disney staff were pushing the issue, and DeSantis could gain more by siding with parents who want more control over education and “sex talk.” elementary classes. school.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Disney wrote that the company opposes “any legislation that violates fundamental human rights” and expresses “solidarity” with LGBTQ staff, “who make their voices heard today and every day.”
Half a dozen Disney staff gathered Tuesday morning at the LGBT Center in Orlando to write letters in support of queer students. “You are amazing. You matter, and we care ”and“ It’s getting better, ”they read next to a picture of a rainbow.
“We are creators, and we felt we could be creative and productive and write letters of encouragement to LGBTQ youth,” said Gabe, Walt Disney World’s product development manager, who did not want his name used for fear of being kept confidential. invaded.
Many Disney staff marched near the company’s studios in Burbank, California, including one with a rainbow-colored Mickey Mouse doll and chanting, “Say gay!”
“We had a great group to show our support for our queer employees and their families,” said Nora Rogers, production manager at Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Disney, whose films and properties have shaped generations of children around the world, has repeatedly spoken out in recent years about controversial social and political situations.
In January 2021, he said he would suspend political donations to lawmakers who voted against the certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. It also threatened to take businesses out of Georgia – a favorite of film and television studios – following the 2016 anti-gay bill, which was eventually vetoed by the then-governor.
Chapek, who became CEO in 2020, is now on fire for speaking out on the Gender Identity Bill only after it was passed by the Florida Legislature.
Republican legislators pushing Florida law stated that parents, not teachers, should talk to their children about gender issues in the early years of their formation. Legislation attracted close attention from Democrats, including Biden, who called it “hateful”. It was sent to DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.
Chapek apologized for not speaking out more harshly and publicly against the bill, saying Disney officials were working behind the scenes to stop it. Chapek also announced the suspension of political donations in Florida and support for advocacy groups fighting similar legislation in other states, echoing those points during Monday’s campaign discussion.
Outside of Walt Disney World, Disney’s Nicolas Maldonado was a lone protester on Tuesday, carrying a rainbow flag and holding a sign reading “Trance rights are human rights” and “#DisneyDoBetter.”
“Where was Chapek when the bill was introduced?” said Maldonado, who had a day off from work on merchandising at a Disney store in Orlando and, though disappointed with Chapek’s initial response, said he felt Disney leaders were beginning to hear concerns from company workers.
Disney has long been influential in Florida politics, seeking to support the Republicans who controlled Tallahassee, the state capital, for two decades, but also being more open on social issues, said Patricia Compass-Medina, co-director of Worker. Cornell University Institute. “So people were surprised that they wanted to keep quiet about it,” she said.
The organizers of the trip claim that the content of political contributions is insufficient.
This was reported by a group of employees who called for exit website that until legislation is repealed, Disney leaders must stop investing in Florida, including moving 2,000 mostly professional jobs from headquarters in California to Orlando. They also say Disney needs to develop an LGBTQ brand similar to Onyx Collective, an initiative aimed at developing content for people of color.
About 20 Disney staff gathered at the Stonewall Inn in New York, where the gay rights movement was born, to write letters in support of families affected by Florida law.
Jonathan Shatt, senior product manager at Disney Streaming Services, said he knows that not every employee who wants to get involved can do so, and that companies “just need to do better”.
“There are a lot of us who have enough privileges to be able to do that to go out and stand up for people,” Shatt said.
Cynthia Cooley, senior corporate program manager at Disney Streaming Services, said there was a faint signal among employees who decided to leave: participating employees placed a rainbow flag next to their names in the Slack messaging program.
“We’re not talking about Bruno,” she said, referring to a catchy song from the Disney movie Encanto.
Farrington reported from Tallahassee; Meg Kinnard in Columbia, SC; Ted Shafri and Tali Arbel in New York; and John Antchak of Los Angeles contributed to this report.
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