Employees at Walt Disney Co. locations across the country plan to rise from their desks and march to the exits on Tuesday to protest CEO Bob Chapek’s response to Florida legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by LGBTQ advocates.
A group of employees announced last week on a website that specifically mentions Chapek that LGBTQ workers and allies are expected to participate in a general walkout at office locations in California, Florida, and elsewhere.
Chapek has faced a barrage of internal and public criticism in recent weeks for failing to take a stronger stance against HB 1557, a bill that would prohibit instruction about “sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida’s kindergarten through third grades. In a companywide memo dated March 7, Chapek stated that the company can make the “biggest impact” by “creating a more inclusive world through the inspiring content we produce.”
Some of the tens of thousands of Disney employees in Florida, home to the sprawling Walt Disney World theme park and resort in Orlando, appeared to be particularly irritated by the company’s stance on the bill.
In a letter dated March 11, Chapek, who assumed the throne of the Magic Kingdom in 2020, apologized directly to employees.
“It’s clear that this isn’t just about a Florida bill; it’s about yet another assault on basic human rights. In the fight for equal rights, you needed me to be a stronger ally, and I let you down,” Chapek wrote in the letter. “I apologize.”
He also stated that all donations to elected officials in Florida would be halted.
However, the letter did not put an end to the uproar.
Employees who identify as LGBTQ began planning a series of protests during their lunch breaks, culminating in a general walkout on Tuesday. Their plans were announced on a website (whereischapek.com) and an Instagram account called disney walkout.
“TWDC [The Walt Disney Co.] leadership’s recent statements and lack of action on the ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation,” the employees said.
“We’ve been thrown into an untenable and unsustainable situation.” We must now take steps to persuade TWDC to protect its employees and their families in the face of such blatant bigotry.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, Chapek attempted to rectify the situation in a virtual town hall on Monday, telling employees that he and other top executives were “determined to use this moment as a catalyst for more meaningful and lasting change.”
Chapek said he and other senior leaders would go on a global listening tour of employees, according to the Journal, citing people who attended the event. The furor underscores a new reality for corporate titans, especially in the media and entertainment industries: Employees are becoming increasingly unafraid to speak out against policies they find offensive or foolish.
The backlash has also resulted in a public relations crisis for Chapek, who is attempting to lead Disney through the streaming revolution with Disney+ and other digital ventures.
On February 24, Chapek’s predecessor, Bob Iger, spoke out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, weeks before Chapek apologized.
The employees who organized the walkout did not immediately respond to a series of emailed questions about their plans, including whether they intend to pressure the company to oppose a similar “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Georgia, a major filming hub. The organizers of the walkout are distinct from the various business employee resource groups (BERGs) and Disney-sponsored Pride organizations.
Parents, not teachers, should be the ones talking to children about sexuality and gender issues, according to Republican legislators in Florida who pushed for the bill.
Democrats argue that the bill stigmatizes LGBTQ people and prevents students from openly discussing their sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill was dubbed “hateful” by Vice President Joe Biden.
The bill has now passed both houses of the Legislature and is on its way to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who has expressed his support for it.
According to a schedule posted on the employee-created website, the walkout will begin at 11 a.m. ET Tuesday.