Disney staff stage defiant walkouts as CEO ‘vows to take action’ to defend LGBT+ rights

A Disney holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida.

LGBT+ Disney staff went on strike to bring attention to the company’s stilted response to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.

If signed into law by governor Ron DeSantis, the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill would ban “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students”.

Disney has been criticised for initially refusing to speak against the bill, and for cutting cheques to Republicans who backed the bill. CEO Bob Chapek has since backtracked and paused all political donations in Florida.

Since last week LGBT+ Disney staff have organised daily 15-minute digital walkouts in protest of Chapek’s response to the legislation, culminating with an all-day walkout Tuesday (22 March).

Among the countless employees taking part, Disney-owned cable channels, streamers and theme parks also threw their weight behind workers.

Television channels ABC and ESPN, as well as streamers Disney Plus and Hulu, issued statements supporting the walkout.

“We strongly denounce all legislation that infringes on the basic human rights of people in the LGBTQIA+ community,” Disney Plus wrote, in a statement also shared by Disney Parks, “especially legislation that targets and harms young people and their families.”

They join Marvel Studios, also under the Disney umbrella, which issued a similar statement next week.

Disney Walkout, a group of the company’s employees who have come together to push the company to work against the bill, signalled its approval of the brands’ messages.

“They were tirelessly advocated for by our own LGBTQIA+ co-workers to show support today,” they wrote on Twitter. “It’s an act of magic and is a true marker of how far we’ve pushed.”

The group pushed for employees across the US to not clock in and send messages of solidarity on Slack and Twitter instead.

Disney walkouts pictured

The Disney Walkout account shared images of staff from Pixar, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Lucasfilm joining the walkout. Scandal actor Kerry Washington also shared a message of support for staff.

With many staff working from home, there were virtual protests over Slack, according to The New York Times.

There was less momentum among union workers at Disney’s theme parks, according to The Guardian, which quoted a union president as saying striking would “violate our contract”.

Chapek addressed the backlash during a town hall meeting on Monday, according to Reuters, announcing that a planned management retreat had been postponed, and that he and senior executives would instead commence a “listening tour”.

Disney also reportedly said it has created an LGBT+ task force to ensure the company is a “force for good”, and that it would back the Human Rights Campiagn’s challenge to Texas governor Greg Abbott ordering “child abuse” investigations into gender-affirming care for trans youth.

“We know the moment requires urgency – and words are not enough,” Chapek said, according to Reuters. “So we are taking some actions right now.”