Carrying signs and calling for change, Disney employees across Southern California staged walkouts Tuesday, to speak out against the company’s response to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Anger over the legislation, which prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to third grade, brought dozens of LGBTQ+ employees, their friends and family members to Glendale, California for a rally at the Bette Davis Picnic Area.
“We think it’s important for us storytellers that everyone’s stories be told, for people to be seen, acknowledged and recognized. We feel like this bill in Florida denies that for a large section of people right now,” Beth Osisek, VP of content development at Hulu, told TheWrap.
Osisek, who is a parent, said it’s time to take a stand against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. “We want to raise awareness,” she said.
“As an ally, as a mom, I see that as a company [Disney] is very inclusive. They made strides in the past few years to become even more inclusive,” Osisek said, before admitting she was disappointed by Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s response to the Florida bill. “I was shocked,” she said.
James Warren, who works with Disney branded television on health and safety for productions, was also bothered by the company’s official response to the legislation.
“I was absolutely surprised by the initial comments,” Warren said. “We need commitments from the company in the way of content and representation… also a plan to produce more inclusive content for the community. And overall, it’s a directional change that Disney needs to make.”
Warren said it was important to attend the rally, to let Disney’s LGBTQ+ employees know “they are not alone.”
“We hope to engage Disney to make actionable changes to legislation or how they interact with legislators in Florida. And also let them know that as community members within Disney, we’re hurt. We feel pain, we feel abandoned by a company that we thought had our backs,” Warren added.
While many employees participated in planned walkouts simply by not showing up to work, others have been posting to social media with the hashtags #DisneySayGay and #DisneyDoBetter. And Disney’s other business units including Hulu, Disney+, Disney Parks and ESPN all posted statements showing solidarity with people who walked out.
Last week, a group of LGBTQ+ Disney employees posted an open letter to a website called whereischapek.com that called on Disney to permanently end political donations to those who sponsored or co-sponsored the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as well as for the company to do more to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ employees and the community at large, such as making contributions to The Trevor Project and other humanitarian groups.
The Disney Walkout group organized brief walkouts all of last week during employee breaks, and they called on other business units across Disney to show their support, leading some ESPN reporters to take a moment of silence during their live NCAA coverage over the weekend. While the walkouts were not organized by the official Pride resource groups at Disney, some of the employees who signed the open letter came from Disney’s corporate, Television Animation, Lucasfilm, Pixar and Media and Entertainment Distribution (DMED) sectors, among others.
Disney and Chapek have been mired in controversy for several weeks for their response to the Florida bill. The legislation, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, passed in the Florida Senate earlier this month, and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously indicated that he intends to sign it into law. The controversy cropped up over Disney’s initial silence to the bill and reports that the company had given donations to politicians who were sponsors or co-sponsors of the legislation.
But things got worse when a leaked internal memo said Chapek had defended the company’s lack of a public statement. Chapek then agreed to meet with DeSantis and said Disney reps had lobbied against the bill behind the scenes. But when DeSantis did not change his mind, and even mocked Disney as a “woke” corporation, Chapek finally agreed to pause all political donations and apologized again to LGBTQ staff.
Disney also held a town hall meeting on Monday in which Chapek expressed his regret over not taking a public stance against the legislation sooner and promising to do more for LGBTQ employees.
Earnest Winborne contributed to this report.