Human Rights Campaign Rejects Disney Donation ‘Until Meaningful Action Is Taken’ on ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill

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Human Rights Campaign | AP

The Human Rights Campaign has rejected The Walt Disney Company’s donation to its efforts to protect LGBTQ+ rights, demanding that the company take “meaningful action” to combat Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.

“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.”

The organization’s statement continues by urging Disney to deepen and sustain its advocacy efforts beyond the impact of a single donation.

“Every student deserves to be seen, and every student deserves an education that prepares them for health and success — regardless of who they are,” the statement concludes. “This should be the beginning of Disney’s advocacy efforts rather than the end.”

The Walt Disney Company provided a response to the HRC’s decision to refuse the donation later Wednesday evening.

“We signed the HRC’s national business statement opposing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and pledged to financially support their efforts, and while we are surprised and disappointed that they will not take our financial support at this time, we remain committed to meaningful action to combat legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community,” a spokesperson for the company stated.

CEO Bob Chapek said Wednesday that The Walt Disney Company is pledging $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations protecting LGBTQ rights following backlash to the company’s initial quiet response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, as well as a report that Disney has given money to all of the bill’s sponsors. Chapek, who is taking his first public stance against the bill, says he will also be meeting with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss Disney’s “concerns” over the legislation.

The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been passed by Florida’s House of Representatives and Senate and is now headed to the desk of DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.

“The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss the ways to address them,” Chapek said during Disney’s shareholders meeting Wednesday, when he confirmed for the first time Disney’s opposition to the bill, which would limit discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

“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, when asked by a shareholder during the Q&A what he expects to come up the meeting with DeSantis.

DeSantis was “very open” to learning about how to prevent the law from being “weaponized” to target LGBTQ people in Florida, according to Chapek.

Chapek noted Disney has “championed underrepresented voices” and made “meaningful investments” in minority communities, supporting them “with nearly $300 million in charitable giving.” “What we stand for as a company matters,” Chapek said, adding that one of its “important values” is “inclusivity, which has been a key area of focus for us in recent years and will remain a priority.”

Also during the Wednesday meeting, shareholders voted to approve a proposal “requesting a report on both median and adjusted pay gaps across race and gender.” The move is a noteworthy one, as the board had recommended against the proposal and previous pay-gap-report related requests have been voted against by Disney investors in years past.

In the wake of controversy over Disney’s initial quiet response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, as well as a report that the company has given money to all of the bill’s sponsors, Chapek expressed Disney’s “unwavering commitment to the LGBTQ+ community” Monday in a company-wide email obtained by Variety.

“In terms of our communities, we are and will continue to be a leader in supporting organizations that champion diversity,” the memo reads. “In 2021, we provided nearly $3 million to support the work of LGBTQ+ organizations. And, we have a long history of supporting important events like Pride parades.”

The memo came just days after Disney drew criticism for its soft stance on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, and following the Orlando Sentinel reporting Feb. 25 that Disney has donated money to every single sponsor and co-sponsor of the bill.

In Monday’s memo, Chapek stated, “While we have not given money to any politician based on this issue, we have contributed to both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation.”

Instead of initially denouncing the controversial legislation, Disney said in a statement last week, “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.”

In Monday’s memo, Chapek stated, “I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of statement for a lack of support. We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world. Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there.”

Employees within Disney told Variety earlier this week that there is widespread disappointment across the company among LGBTQ+ employees and allies that this letter was not made public.