After weeks of internal strife and external controversy surrounding the Walt Disney Company’s lack of public response to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida, CEO Bob Chapek announced in a company email on Friday that Disney will pause all political donations in the state during a restructuring of its political giving framework.
Chapek also apologized directly to the company’s LGBTQ employees for his widely criticized messaging on the issue.
“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” Chapek wrote. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
The controversy erupted into public view on Monday after a company-wide email sent by Chapek about the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was met with criticism not just from outside observers but rank-and-file Disney employees, an extraordinary rupture of Disney’s tightly controlled public messaging.
While Chapek expressed “unwavering commitment to the LGBTQ+ community,” he said that he had chosen not to take a public stance on the legislation.
“The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create here and the diverse community organizations we support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community,” he wrote.
Chapek also said in the Monday memo that Disney had not donated to politicians specifically regarding the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but the company had contributed to “Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation.”
By Wednesday, after the bill had been passed by the Florida legislature, it was clear that Chapek’s lack of public comment on the issue had become untenable. During the Disney shareholder’s meeting, Chapek stated the company’s opposition to the legislation for the first time. But his pledge of $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign, among other LGBTQ rights organizations, was rejected by HRC leadership.
“The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill, don’t become dangerous laws,” Joni Madison, interim president of the HRC, said in a statement on Wednesday evening. “While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida — including hardworking families employed by Disney — today they took a step in the right direction. But it was merely the first step.”
Even more remarkably, statements to Disney leadership from several LGBTQ employee groups within the company became public, including one sent well before Chapek’s company-wide email on Monday. In another statement sent on Wednesday, Pixar Animation Studio employees alleged that Disney executives have cut “nearly every moment of overly gay affection” from its feature films. (Spokespeople for Disney and Pixar did not respond to requests for comment on this claim.)
In his message on Friday, Chapek appeared to speak directly to a common refrain from the employee statements, namely incredulity that Disney would continue to support Florida legislatures who voted in favor of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values,” Chapek wrote. “And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”
Chapek concluded by promising to “engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally,” and that further announcements about the company’s efforts to advocate for LGBTQ rights would be forthcoming.
“I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community,” he wrote. “I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”
Here is the full text of Chapek’s Friday email:
To my fellow colleagues, but especially our LGBTQ+ community,
Thank you to all who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company’s response to the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was. 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.
Our employees see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good. I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all.
Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states. 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. I am committed to this work and to you all, and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally. You will hear more about our progress in the coming weeks.
I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community. I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on—and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.