In a statement attributed to “the LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies” obtained by Variety, employees of the animation studio allege that Disney corporate executives have demanded cuts from “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection… regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar.”
The stunning claim is part of a wider reaction to the company-wide memo sent to Disney employees by CEO Bob Chapek on Monday regarding its response to the recently passed legislation in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In the memo, Chapek states that the “biggest impact” the company can make “in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce.”
According to the Pixar letter, that claim is at odds with employees’ experience of trying to create content with same-sex affection approved by Disney executives.
“We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were,” the letter states. “Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”
To date, Pixar has only included a tiny handful of LGBTQ characters in its feature films, most prominently in the 2020 fantasy film “Onward,” which features a cyclops police officer named Specter, voiced by Lena Waithe. The character’s sexuality is only acknowledged in passing, when Specter says, “It’s not easy being a new parent – my girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, okay?” But the movie was still banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia due to the scene, and in the version released in Russia, the word “girlfriend” was changed to “partner.”
The same year, Pixar released a short film, “Out,” on Disney Plus, about a gay man who struggles with coming out to his parents. (The latest Pixar animated feature, “Turning Red,” debuts on Disney Plus on March 11.)
The claim of censorship by Pixar employees is particularly damning for former CEO Robert Iger, who oversaw Disney’s purchase of Pixar in 2006 and just exited the company in December 2021.
The employee letter also demands Disney withdraw financial support of all legislatures who supported the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and “take a decisive public stand” against the legislation and bills like it elsewhere in the country.
It also references Chapek’s comments earlier on Wednesday during the company’s shareholders meeting, when the CEO spoke publicly for the first time about Disney’s opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, after weathering widespread criticism for his handling of the issue. He announced that the company would pledge $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ rights organizations, and said he will meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss Disney’s “concerns” about the legislation, after first connecting earlier on the phone.
“Gov. DeSantis committed to me that he wanted to make sure that this law could not be weaponized in any way by individuals in the state or groups in the state to unduly harm or target gay, lesbian, nonbinary or transgender kids and families,” Chapek said.
In response to the meeting, the Pixar employees stated that, “While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough. … Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate ‘both sides’ – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question and answer portion of the meeting.”
Following Chapek’s pledge, the Human Rights Campaign also announced that they’d refuse the donation until “meaningful action is taken to combat” the legislation.
In a statement, the HRC’s interim president Joni Madison, explained the decision: “Businesses have had and continue to have a major impact in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from marriage equality to the defeat of House Bill 2 in North Carolina and beyond. 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.”
“HRC encourages Disney, and all employers, to continue to fight for their employees – many of whom bravely spoke out to say their CEO’s silence was unacceptable – and the LGBTQ+ community by working with us and state and local LGBTQ+ groups to ensure these dangerous anti-equality proposals that harm LGBTQ+ families and kids have no place in Florida,” Madison’s statement continued. “Every student deserves to be seen, and every student deserves an education that prepares them for health and success — regardless of who they are. This should be the beginning of Disney’s advocacy efforts rather than the end.”
Representatives for Disney and for Pixar did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The letter was first reported on Twitter by journalist Judd Legum of the newsletter Popular Information.
The full text of the statement is below:
A Statement to Leadership from the LGBTQIA+ Employees of Pixar & Their Allies
We are writing because we are disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry. In regards to Disney’s financial involvement with legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, we hoped that our company would show up for us. But it didn’t.
Monday’s email, “Our Unwavering Commitment to the LGBTQ+ Community”, rang hollow. It began with the claim that Disney has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, but Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone. Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the parks, even removing same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s. Additionally, Disney began capitalizing on Pride in 2018 with The Rainbow Mickey Collection, (while de-emphasizing the terms like LGBTQ+ and not even featuring explicitly LGBTQIA+ pieces such as Pride flag pins until 2021). To this end, it feels terrible to be a part of a company that makes money from Pride merch when it chooses to “step back” in times of our greatest need, when our rights are at risk.
The second claim stated that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds”. However, the very email making this claim opened with a corporate statement regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Eight days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Disney paused the release of theatrical films in Russia and announced “We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation.” Following the siege on the capital in 2021, Disney stopped all political donations to members of Congress who had objected to the presidential election results. In 2016, Disney told the state of Georgia: “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law” in response to the controversial Religious Liberty bill. By taking a stand, Disney directly affected the legislative outcome in Georgia. It has been proven that Disney’s corporate statements can and do make a difference.
Finally, we come to the push for Content as the answer. We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it. Beyond the “inspiring content” that we aren’t even allowed to create, we require action.
We are calling on Disney leadership to immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to fully denounce this legislation publicly, and to make amends for their financial involvement. While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough. Throughout the shareholder meeting, Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate “both sides” – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question and answer portion of the meeting. This is not what it means to “unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.”
Disney taking a stand by honoring their company values has changed the course of legislation in the past. If Disney is true in its values, it will take a decisive public stand against the discriminatory legislation occurring in Florida and offer tangible support for the LGBTQIA+ communities affected by bigoted legislation sweeping the country. Stand against this bill in Florida and against the similar bills in South Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, and Tennessee. Stand against the transphobic legislation in Texas, Iowa, Utah, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama. Many hateful groups are attempting to eradicate us through legislation – we need you to stand with us entirely, not in empty words.
This matter is not something that can wait until Reimagine Tomorrow in April, or Pride Month in June. This matter needs to be addressed now. This is urgent. 42% of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in 2021, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, with a large factor being the lack of support that these discriminatory legislations enable. Disney claims to care for the welfare of children, but supporting politicians like this directly hurts one of their most vulnerable audiences. There are lives at stake and Disney’s support could save those lives. “We still have more work to do,” your email said. This is that work.
Signed with Pride,
The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies