Disney CEO Defends ‘Lack of a Statement’ Over Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill: ‘They Can Be Counterproductive’

“I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees,” Bob Chapek adds in memo to staff

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 08: Bob Chapek of Disney talks during the Opening Ceremony of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016 at ESPN Wide World of Sports on May 8, 2016 in Orlando, Florida. Prince Harry, patron of the Invictus Games Foundation is in Orlando ahead of the opening of Invictus Games which will open on Sunday. The Invictus Games is the only International sporting event for wounded, injured and sick servicemen and women. Started in 2014 by Prince Harry the Invictus Games uses the power of Sport to inspire recovery and support rehabilitation. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images for Invictus)
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Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek on Monday addressed why the company did not issue a statement in regards to the passage of Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, telling staff in an internal memo that such statements can often be “counterproductive” and even “weaponized” by those on both sides of the political spectrum.

Chapek says in his memo that he met with LGBTQ+ leaders within Disney on Friday to discuss the legislation, and he made clear Disney’s support for the LGBTQ+ community and its staff in particular. He further clarified that he does “not want anyone to mistake a lack of a statement for a lack of support.”

“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change,” Chapek wrote. “We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there. And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe 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.”

Disney has taken heat in recent days over a lack of a response and calls by protestors outside Disney World and other locations to denounce the bill, and Chapek also addressed criticism about the company’s political contributions to those in Florida who have supported the bill. He did however say that Disney will be reassessing its advocacy at an upcoming summit in April.

“While we have not given money to any politician based on this issue, we have contributed to both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation,” Chapek added. “I can also share that Geoff Morrell, our new Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, will be reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world—including political giving—as he begins to integrate the communications, public policy, government relations and CSR teams.”

The bill, which is officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, not only outlaws teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through Grade 3, “or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards,” but also allows parents to sue schools and individual teachers who engage in these topics.

The bill is currently on the agenda for the Florida Senate, and if it passes there it would land on Governor Ron DeSantis’ desk.

Chapek pointed to recent movies and shows such as “Encanto,” “Modern Family,” “Shang-Chi,” “Summer of Soul” and “Love, Victor” as examples of how content is more powerful than corporate statements but added that the company gave $3 million last year to LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations but that there’s still far more to do.

“Our company has been a force for inclusion for a long time—and that will not change on my watch. We all have a role to play in this effort—from the Cast Members who make magical memories for fans and families of all kinds, to storytellers who take audiences on journeys to new storyworlds that illuminate our own, to everyone in between who is responsible for ensuring our culture lives up to our values. I hope we will all continue rowing in the direction of a better tomorrow,” he concluded.