The Mouse continues to face backlash over its support of Florida politicians involved with the homophobic bill.
For almost two years, Disney has been making the oppressive dreams of conservative pundits come true. Earlier this month, a report showed that in the last two years, Disney has donated nearly $300,000 to Florida politicians pushing the state’s Don’t Say Gay bill, which Florida lawmakers sent to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk last week. Through hashtags like #DisneyDoBetter and #DisneySayGay, fans and employees alike expressed their outrage. Now, Disney employees are taking further action with a series of digital walkouts.
When current and former employees learned of Disney’s political donations, there was a lot of expected hurt — but also confusion, as they explained to Mic. That’s because Disney was never quite the pinnacle of LGBTQ+ representation it claimed to be, said Sabrina Cotugno, who worked at Disney Television Animation for seven years. “For many years I had witnessed Disney enact a silent ban on LGBTQ+ representation for nearly every project I worked on,” Cotugno wrote to Mic in an email.
Similarly, Kristen, who worked at Disney Television Animation for four years, fought to increase LGBTQ+ representation alongside her peers despite pushback from the studio. “Now I’m seeing the representation my peers and I fought for being used by [Disney CEO] Bob Chapek to shield Disney from criticism,” Kristen, who asked to withhold her last name, told Mic by email. “I’m seeing the money queer artists made for the studio going into the pockets of hateful politicians. It’s incredibly heartbreaking.”
Last Friday, Chapek apologized to employees for the company’s silence about the bill, following a lukewarm email where he said “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds.” Instead, he argued, “the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support.”
After backlash, Chapek stated in his latest memo that Disney had paused its donations to Florida politicians while it developed “a new framework for our political giving” to ensure “our advocacy better reflects our values.” While Kristen welcomed the move, she’s still skeptical. “I’m glad they paused donations,” she told Mic, “but what does that mean? That they’ll wait a few months and continue donating once the controversy has died down?”
That sentiment was shared by a number of Disney employees. On WhereIsChapek.com, employees announced plans to hold a week of virtual 15-minute walkouts, that will end with a day-long walkout on March 22. These walkouts are specifically meant to address how Disney has “utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation.”
With these walkouts, employees are taking Disney to task. In an open letter, they wrote that the company’s public statements “have indicated that leadership still does not truly understand the impact this legislation is having not only on Cast Members in the state of Florida, but on all members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the company and beyond.”
Cotugno hopes the walkouts will show the Mouse how serious employees are about this. “As more and more states introduce hateful legislation to attack the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community, I hope Disney will use its influence and public platform to condemn these laws in no uncertain terms,” they told Mic.
As a company, Disney certainly has the capacity to do better. Cotugno was once impressed by Disney’s support of the real-life LGBTQ+ community. During their time at Disney, Cotugno said, the company had offered benefits to same-sex domestic partners before gay marriage was legalized and had “publicly opposed homophobic and transphobic legislation.”
“As one of the largest media corporations in the world, Disney has a unique opportunity to make a difference in the real lives of their LGBTQ+ fans around the world — not just in the media they consume,” Cotugno wrote.
In their walkout demands, employees note that a temporary pause on donations isn’t enough. They are calling on Disney to indefinitely cease all donations to politicians involved in the creation or passage of the Don’t Say Gay bill. They also demand Disney to “publicly commit to an actionable plan that protects employees from hateful legislation.” Perhaps most importantly, employees are demanding that Disney create an in-house brand similar to The Onyx Collective, which focuses on creators of color, to focus “on LGBTQ+ creators and underrepresented voices.”
This is far from the first time that Disney has faced controversy. In 2018, reports broke that Disney Park employees were living out of their cars. Although Disney Park employees were eventually given a wage increase, Kristen said, “that wasn’t done out of the goodness of Disney’s heart.” Instead, it was the result of union organizing and online pressure. That may be the key here, too.
“Bob Chapek and the Disney company are motivated by money and business, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be pressured to do the right thing,” Kristen told Mic. “I don’t have a lot of faith in corporations, but I do have faith in people and the power we have when we come together.”