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LGBTQ+ Disney Employees Walk Out Over Response to Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

Employees are planning a larger walkout on March 22

Some of Disney’s LGBTQ+ employees planned to walk out of their offices Tuesday in protest of the company and CEO Bob Chapek’s response to Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The walkouts were scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. in various time zones where Disney properties are located. While it’s unclear how many employees participated in any demonstration on Tuesday, TheWrap observed a small group of people outside the Disney property on Riverside Drive in Burbank. The group that organized the walkouts expected to do similar demonstrations throughout the week and a larger, “full walkout” next week.

On Monday afternoon, a Twitter account called @DisneyWalkout surfaced and shared an open letter that said it was signed and organized by LGBTQIA+ employees and their allies, demanding the company “regain the trust” of its LGBTQIA+ staffers. The letter added that it was written in partnership with members across Disney’s corporate, Television Animation, Lucasfilm, Pixar and Media and Entertainment Distribution (DMED) sectors, among others.

The open letter and petition shared to a website called whereischapek.com offered employees details, saying they could take part in in-person and virtual walkouts for 15 minutes during their work breaks at 3 p.m. each day between Tuesday and early next week, followed by a full-scale walkout on Tuesday, March 22.

However, an individual with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap walkout organizers are not associated with the business employee resource groups (BERGs) and Pride Advisory Group within Disney that have spoken out in recent weeks. And the Pride Advisory Group in a Pride Slack channel Tuesday addressed the lockout without either endorsing or condemning the walkout.

“The Pride Advisory Group would like to address the potential walkout being communicated about in the Pride Slack channels that is slated to happen starting today and, potentially, escalating into next week,” the post read. “We have not organized this walkout nor the accompanying list of demands and we neither endorse nor condemn these actions.”

The group behind the Disney Walkout in its open letter listed a series of demands for Chapek and TWDC to take, including indefinitely ceasing political donations to a list of politicians who were involved in the creation and passage of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, an action plan to protect employees from future hateful legislation, make contributions to The Trevor Project and other human rights advocacy groups, and outline how the company will expand its content catalog to support LGBTQ themes and creators. You can see the full list of demands here.

“TWDC claims to integrate DEI in it’s core values but the employees have yet to see fruitful integration of this program that is properly uplifting marginalized voices, moreover in an intersectional way,” the open letter reads. “By supporting the politicians who brought this legislation and not taking a public stand against it, Chapek and TWDC leadership have made it clear they are more than willing to sacrifice their employees’ health and wellness in service of the bottom line. We will not stand for this anymore.”

Disney and Chapek have been mired in controversy surrounding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill for several weeks. The legislation, officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, is designed to prohibit Florida schools from teaching students between kindergarten and third grade about topics of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The bill passed in the Florida Senate last week, 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.

“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry,” Chapek previously wrote.

Rosemary Rossi contributed to this report.

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