After doubling down on Disney’s decision not to denounce Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill in an internal memo, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek has reversed course. Speaking at a shareholder meeting on Wednesday, March 9 — the day after the bill passed the Florida Senate — Chapek took a public stance on the bill, announcing plans to meet with Governor Ron DeSantis to discuss his concerns and pledging $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQIA+ advocacy organizations.
“The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss the ways to address them,” the CEO said. The statement surprised many, including Disney employees, who, on Monday, March 7, received an internal memo from Chapek insisting that the company would not be taking any stance concerning the bill. Here’s what you need to know.
Bob Chapek sends internal memo refusing to denounce the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”
This foray into politics is new for Chapek, who was pressured to respond earlier this week after reports revealed that Disney had given money to Florida legislators supporting the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. “I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities,” Chapek wrote in the memo to Disney employees, per The Hollywood Reporter. “And we are committed to creating a more inclusive company — and world.” Why, then, did Disney give money to politicians who support the bill, which could potentially have the effect of banning all discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation in public schools? Chapek didn’t say, though he did note that Disney gives to both Republican and Democratic legislators and that he and Disney’s new chief corporate affairs officer Geoff Morrell would be “reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world — including political giving.”
Chapek also claimed that Disney gave to politicians on both sides of the aisle, but the monetary donations were only part of the issue for Disney employees. Once the bill was passed in the Florida House of Representatives on February 25, employees and consumers questioned why Disney refused to give any official statement on the bill at all. Last week, The Hollywood Reporter cited sources claiming that Chapek intended to remain quiet on any political issues and had already turned down making a statement about voting rights. At the time, Morrell told the magazine, “He believes the best way we can help create a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce.”
Chapek doubled down on this rationale in his memo on Monday, saying that he didn’t see the point in putting out a statement that could be used to “further divide and inflame,” adding that he sees Disney’s best course of action as continuing to put out diverse content. The CEO specifically cited Encanto, Black Panther, Pose, Coco, Shang-Chi, Modern Family, and Love, Victor as examples of “diverse stories” that he claimed acted as “corporate statements.” He continued, calling them “more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort.”
Chapek pledges $5 million in contributions to LGBTQIA+ organizations and vows to meet with Ron DeSantis.
Following an overwhelmingly negative response to the memo — both within Disney and outside of the organization — Chapek changed his tune on Wednesday. After announcing plans to meet with DeSantis to discuss the bill, he told shareholders, “Governor DeSantis committed to me that he wanted to make sure that this law could not be weaponized in any way by individuals in the state or groups in the state to unduly harm or target gay, lesbian, nonbinary, or transgender kids and families.”
However, soon after Chapek’s new quotes went public, DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw pushed back, claiming that they had only just received a call from Disney on Wednesday. “This is the first time we have heard from Disney regarding HB 11557,” Pushaw said in a statement, confirming that the governor did, in fact, speak with Chapek. “The governor’s position has not changed. No in-person meeting has been scheduled yet.”