Disney CEO Apologizes, Halts Political Donations Amid 'Don't Say Gay' Debacle

In a company memo, Bob Chapek admitted he "missed the mark" by initially insisting Disney maintain a neutral stance on Florida's anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek apologized to staff Friday following a disastrous week that saw his company engulfed in the political firestorm surrounding Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

In an internal memo that the company later tweeted from its verified account, Chapek also announced that Disney would pause all of its political donations in Florida to “ensure our advocacy better reflects our values.”

“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” he wrote. “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.”

Elsewhere in the memo, Chapek vowed to “continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community” in the weeks ahead to better understand the issues at stake.

“I missed the mark in this case,” he added, “but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”

Chapek’s remarks were a marked difference from sentiments he had expressed earlier this week. In a nearly 1,000-word memo sent to staff on Monday, the CEO touted Disney’s support of LGBTQ causes but insisted the company maintain a neutral stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education legislation, better known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Bob Chapek's initial remarks on Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill prompted many Disney fans to accuse the company of hypocrisy.
Bob Chapek's initial remarks on Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill prompted many Disney fans to accuse the company of hypocrisy.
APHOTOGRAFIA via Getty Images

“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” he wrote, acknowledging that Disney had “contributed to both Republican and Democrat legislators who have subsequently taken positions on both sides of the legislation.”

His comments struck a sour note among many fans, who accused Disney of hypocrisy given the company’s recent strides toward more LGBTQ-inclusive content in movies and TV series as well as at its theme parks around the world. Staff at Pixar Animation Studios ― a Disney subsidiary ― reacted by alleging their owners had demanded edits for “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” that had been planned for its feature films.

By Wednesday, Chapek appeared eager to reverse course, saying Disney had been “opposed to the bill from the outset” and pledging a $5 million donation to LGBTQ rights groups.

This announcement, however, also backfired when the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization and one of the groups to which Chapek planned to contribute, said it would reject Disney’s donation until the company took more “meaningful action” toward combating the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is expected to sign the bill, which has been passed by the state’s legislature. The legislation will restrict how gender identity and sexuality are discussed in public school classrooms, particularly at the elementary level.

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