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Disney employee walkout holds CEO Bob Chapek’s feet to the fire over Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

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Fed up Disney employees staged a full-on, all-day walkout on Tuesday after a week of smaller break-time walkouts, all meant to call out the corporation — with much of the anger targeting CEO Bob Chapek — over its silence and inaction leading up to the approval of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, currently awaiting the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"All eyes are on you Disney, how you choose to proceed will decide whether you remain culturally relevant or become a relic of the past. You don't get to decide which lives do or don't matter,” noted one employee in a Twitter thread of employee statements by Disney Walkout, the official account for the protests, also tied to the official website, Where is Chapek.

ORLANDO, FL - MARCH 22: Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Employees are staging a company-wide walkout today to protest Walt Disney Co.'s response to controversial legislation passed in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)
Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on March 22, part of a company-wide walkout to protest Walt Disney Co.'s response to controversial legislation passed in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

Noted another, "Disney would be nothing without its queer and trans employees.” And another: "Queer employees have been pushing for years to make this company better—it shouldn't have taken all this for us to get the attention of people up the food chain. Our voices mattered before all this."

On Tuesday, according to Variety, about 75 employees staged a walkout from Disney's Burbank, Calif., studios, with Rachel Anderson, an employee in Disney Music Group who has a transgender son, telling the publication about Disney, “They are willing to take political stands when it generates money." She added that the controversy has "been really painful and soul-crushing on a personal level.”

Video of the walkout was posted to Twitter.

Raven-Symoné, meanwhile, along with the rest of the cast of the Disney Channel's Raven's Home, walked off the set on Tuesday. The star, who married wife Miranda Pearman-Maday in 2020, shared video of the walkout on her Instagram, explaining in a caption, "In support of our LGBTQ+ family and all of those who will be damaged by the 'don’t say gay bill' we the cast of Raven's Home are walking out."

Disney companies supporting the walkout — through which protestors are demanding that Disney permanently stop all campaign donations to any politician who created or supported the "Don't Say Gay" bill, among other demands — include Hulu, ESPN and FX.

Official Disney accounts, including Disney+ and Disney Parks, posted words of support. But many say it’s too little too late — along with Chapek’s public apology, not made until after the bill, which is officially known as Parental Rights in Education bill and prohibits educators from offering any instruction on gender or sexuality to students up until third grade, certain to further oppress LGBTQ youth.

“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry," Chapek said in a statement. “We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values. And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review. But, I know there is so much more work to be done.”

Critics have noted that, had Chapek spoke out earlier, with a firm stance, fear of economic repercussions could have possibly held sway.

Comments on Disney’s most recent posts of support include "I'm calling BS," "I'll believe it when I see it" and "Do more."

A planned “media storm” in the midst of the walkouts, held at 11am PST on Tuesday and using hashtags including #DisneyDoBetter and #DisneySayGay, brought a flood of support, including from celebs George Takei and Kerry Washington — as well as a cavalcade of brave employees. (Yahoo Life reached out to Walt Disney World Communications and will update with any response.)

How did we get here?

Disney started feeling the heat over this issue last month, when Orlando Sentinel columnist Scott Maxwell dedicated his Feb. 25 piece to Disney’s alleged support of the politicians backing the controversial bill.

“The parks preach inclusion in their marketing campaigns. But Disney has given money to every single sponsor and co-sponsor of this year’s infamous ‘Don't Say Gay’ bill,” Maxwell wrote. “Disney knows who these people are. The Senate sponsor, Ocala Republican Dennis Baxley, has backed anti-gay legislation for years — including laws to prevent gay couples from adopting kids who otherwise wouldn't have a family at all.”

That prompted gay historian Eric Cervini to create a meme based on Maxwell's article and post it to Instagram, where it went viral. “Please boycott, share (TAG DISNEY!), and use that saved subscription money to donate” to Equality Florida, he wrote. “LGBTQ+ kids’ lives are at stake.”

Also in response, the global nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation launched an ad campaign “demanding Disney speak out publicly against hateful Florida legislation.”

Cervini told Yahoo Life at the time, “It’s not too late for Disney — and other companies with a history of pinkwashing — to walk the walk and come out forcefully against the proposed legislation.”

But still, Disney — whose spokespeople did not responded to Yahoo Life’s request for comment — remained silent on the issue.

Instead, it chose to take a stand regarding Russia’s attack on Ukraine, announcing it was “pausing the release of theatrical films in Russia,” and further stoking the ire of those seeking some sort of action on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

“That’s nice of you, can you do something about the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill in FL that will terrorize LGBT families? Because you donate to some of the politicians supporting that bill,” noted just one of the many angry commenters.

Slow movement from Disney — fast response from LGBTQ employees

On March 14, an organized group of anonymous Walt Disney Company employees — operating through the Where Is Chapek website and Disney Walkout twitter handle — released an open letter announcing the upcoming walkouts.

"We were sick of two things: our LGBTQIA+ community being attacked by our government and Disney’s continual failure to create a work environment that is safe for us," the organizers said in a statement to Yahoo Life. "It’s been a lot of words with little action.”

The group’s demands included and still include: for the Walt Disney Company (TWDC) to “immediately and indefinitely cease all campaign donations to these politicians involved in the creation or passage of the ‘don’t say gay’ bill’ [full list here]; for TWDC to “publicly commit to an actionable plan” that protects LGBTQ employees from “hateful legislation,” such as stopping any efforts to move employees to Florida; to reaffirm the company’s commitment to advocating for LGBTQ staff, “even in the face of political risk”; to take responsibility “for their inaction to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ children and their families” by substantially contributing to the Trevor Project and other human rights advocacy groups; to allocate content spending and outline how it will expand LGBTQ representation; and to create “an LGBTQIA+ brand” that focuses on queer creators and “underrepresented voices.”

Other related Disney drama in recent days included an announcement from Disney’s Pixar — following employees calling out the company for nixing “overtly gay affection” from previous Pixar films — that it was reinstating a previously-cut same-sex kiss in the animated Lightyear. Then, on Monday, Disney postponed its management retreat in the wake of the continued fallout.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the major Disney walkout saw Twitter and Instagram flooded with supportive protest posts that just kept on coming.

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