Disney CEO Bob Chapek pauses donations to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Republicans: ‘I let you down’

Bob Chapek of Disney speaks outside

Following bruising backlash, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek has paused all political donations to Florida amid the state’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.

Chapek apologised Friday (11 March) for the company’s silence under his leadership in response to the Parental Rights in Education bill that will ban classroom discussion about LGBT+ identities in the state’s primary schools.

It follows weeks of protects outside Disney theme parks as well as dozens of the studio’s staff searching for answers as to why Chapek had not publicly condemned House Bill 1557. One that campaigners warn could lead to queer youth being further marginalised, bullied and even committing suicide, and the White House has dubbed “hateful”.

“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights, and I let you down,” Chapek wrote in a company-wide email to colleagues, CNBC San Diego reported.

“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.”

Disney boss: ‘We were opposed to the bill from the outset’

Disney, which operates four theme parks and dozens of hotels in Orlando, Florida, was skewered by activists and Disney staff for not only its weeks-long silence but how it donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawmakers who voted for the bill.

According to an analysis by Popular Information, an online news website that tracks corporate political contributions, over the last two years Disney donated $197,162 to members of the Florida legislature that voted for the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation.

The revelation angered Disney workers, with frustration mingling with disappointment as Disney continued to remain quiet about a bill that will harm LGBT+ youth.

“I am deeply angered by Disney thinking it can look the other way,” Abigail Disney, a granddaughter of one of Disney’s founders, tweeted.

But such donations flowing from Disney are set to come to a halt, Chapek said, coming just one day after Republican governor of Florida Ron DeSantis publicly trashed Disney for being a “woke” company.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at The Rosen Shingle Creek on February 24, 2022. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Chapek said that Disney is drafting a new approach to political donations to ensure that the company’s “advocacy better reflects our values”.

“This is not just an issue about a bill in Florida,” he said, “but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights.”

“Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good,” he added. “I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote the good by telling inclusive stories but also by standing up for the rights of all.”

Chapek told shareholders Wednesday that he has sought a meeting with DeSantis, who has signalled his intention to sign the law, to discuss the legislation.

“While we’ve been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” said Chapek, who made his remarks off-camera during the virtual shareholder meeting.

“We were opposed to the bill from the outset, and we chose not to take a public position because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”

But DeSantis has remained steadfast in his support. On Thursday, he said there is “zero” chance he was going to reverse his position in the face of criticism from “woke companies”.

“You have companies, like at Disney, that are going to say and criticise parents’ rights,” he said to supporters in Boca Raton in a video obtained by Fox News.

“They’re going to criticise the fact we don’t want transgenderism in kindergarten in first-grade classrooms.”