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Staff members at Disney are staging walkouts to protest at CEO Bob Chapek’s ‘slow response’ in publicly criticising Florida legislation that critics have dubbed the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.
Florida’s legislation, if it becomes law, would ban the discussion of LGBTQIA+ identity in classrooms, and school authority figures would be forced to ‘out’ the sexuality of students to their parents or guardians.
The bill, The Parental Rights in Education, which has been given the nickname ‘Don’t Say Gay’, was passed at the start of the month and is one signature away from becoming law.
Employees started the Disney Do Better walkouts last Monday and they have continued into this week.
They announced their protest in an open letter which said: “Our community will not sit silently while The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) fails in its obligations to advocate for employees it claims to support with ‘unwavering commitment’, [while it] profits off our labour, and boasts of record profits [that] it has used to fund politicians who legislate unsafe schools for our youth.”
Chapek sent an internal staff email saying they were against the bill, but the company refused to condemn it publicly.
Those protesting are calling for an “immediate and indefinite” stop to donations to any politicians that sponsored the bill, as well as an action plan for how Disney will protect their employees from any potential harmful laws that may come about in the future.
Chapek released an apology on 11 March, where he announced that donations to political figures in Florida would be paused. He said: “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
However, employees have said that the apology was inadequate, and came far too late.
In the open letter, Disney staff members said: “The recent statements by TWDC leadership regarding the Florida legislature’s recent bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation.”
The walkouts – where employees walk out of company buildings in protest – have been happening daily, in 15-minute slots that fit within break times. A company-wide walkout is planned for 22 March.
Members of the LGBTQIA+ community have taken to social media to express their anger. Blaire M, a 22-year-old university student, told PRUDE: “As a non-binary lesbian, there aren’t words to describe my anger at Disney. No company should be able to dictate politics the way they do, and fixing that would take many years of reform.”
On whether they think the walkouts will make a difference to the situation, Blaire says: “I personally don’t think the walkouts alone will do anything to affect change. Disney doesn’t care about a few employees taking the day off, or about hashtags on Twitter – they care about profit. Without explicitly calling for a total boycott of Disney and their products, I don’t think much will change.”
For the large-scale walkout on Tuesday, some protestors will be joining virtually over zoom. A petition has also been set up for those outside the company to sign and show their support.
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