LGBTQ Disney employees say they’ll protest the company’s response to the Parental Rights in Education bill, known nationally as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
The legislation bars instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
At first, Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, said the company would not take a side on the matter. But that changed after people applied a little pressure. Still, that anger hasn’t gone away.
Disney cast members planned walkouts on Tuesday at worksites in California, Florida and elsewhere.
LGBTQ workers and supporters will be on Hotel Plaza Boulevard at Walt Disney World protesting. They plan to hold Disney accountable, too.
Walt Disney World released a statement Tuesday morning at about 8:30 a.m.
“To ALL who come to this happy place, welcome,” the statement says. “Disney Parks, Experiences and Products is committed to creating experiences that support family values for every family, and will not stand for discrimination in any form. We oppose any legislation that infringes on basic human rights, and stand in solidarity and support our LGBTQIA+ cast, crew, guests and fans who make their voices heard today and every day.”
Nicholas, who did not want to reveal his last name, is a cast member who’s off on Tuesday and will participate in the walkout.
“This is where we stand and we demand. The hashtag is on my Zoom background: #DisneyDoBetter. They need to continue to do better for all of us,” Nicholas said.
Officials for the unions that represent tens of thousands of workers at Disney theme parks in Florida and Anaheim, California — including the hundreds of costumed performers who portray Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Stitch at Walt Disney World — said there didn’t appear to be any momentum for a walkout.
“We are not in support of that,” Romualdas Dulskis, a Teamsters official in Orlando whose local represents costumed characters, bus drivers and other Disney workers, said Monday. “That’s just not the way we are going to go about this.”
Union leaders said they had advised their members not to participate because their contract prohibits work stoppages or disruptions.
“I don’t want to downplay anyone’s efforts, if someone feels what they are doing is the right way to make an impact,” said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here! Local 362, which represents custodians, housekeepers and other Disney World theme park workers. “We aren’t part of that. It would violate our contract if members of our union participated, though we are concerned about the issue, of course.”
One of the organizers of the walkout, a New York-based employee, said they were expecting more participation from Disney workers in production, marketing, IT and other desk jobs than those in hourly, union jobs. The worker spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being targeted online and because organizers didn’t want a single organizer taking the spotlight.
Part of the goal of the walkout is for those workers with the “privilege” to be able to protest to stand up for those who can’t, the New York employee said.
The legislation attracted scrutiny from Biden, who called it “hateful,” as well as other Democrats who argue it demonizes LGBTQ people. It has been sent to DeSantis, who was expected to sign it into law.
Disney has long been influential in Florida politics, tending to be conservative and supporting Republicans who have been in control of Tallahassee, the state capital, for two decades, but also being more open on social issues, said Patricia Campos-Medina, co-director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “That’s why people felt surprised that they wanted to stay quiet on this issue,” she said.
Chapek says he now stands fully against the bill and any future anti-LGBTQ legislation; however, he was silent at first.
“But what we’re looking for is assurance and what we’re looking for from him is that he is going to have our backs down the line down the road,” Nicholas said.
Duncan Dickson is a retired professor of theme park management at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management of UCF.
We asked Dickson if these walkouts will have any effect on tourism or any economic impact now or in the future.
“I doubt it. The number of people that will walk out, I think, is minimal. It will get more press than actual interest,” Dickson said.
“We want action and not just continued lip service of them saying, ‘we love you, we stand with you,’” Nicholas said.
Nicholas also wants Disney to halt future donations to any candidate or campaign that stands against the LGBTQ community.
“I don’t know any candidates that are standing against the community. I mean, that’s not a smart stance anyway,” Dickson said.
“This is a human rights issue,” Nicholas said.
A spokesperson for Walt Disney World said, “This morning, we held a virtual company-wide conversation on LGBTQ+ legislation and Disney’s response to it. We know how important this issue is for our LGBTQ+ employees, their families and allies, we respect our colleagues’ right to express their views, and we pledge our ongoing support of the LGBTQ+ community in the fight for equal rights.”