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Disney LGBTQ employees plan walkout over Florida bill

LA Times logo LA Times 3/15/2022 Ryan Faughnder
a man wearing a suit and tie: Disney's Bob Chapek. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung) © (Associated Press ) Disney's Bob Chapek. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

A group of Walt Disney Co. employees has organized a series of walkouts to protest the Burbank entertainment giant's response to Florida's controversial bill limiting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The plans come after Disney Chief Executive Bob Chapek on Friday apologized to staff for initially declining to publicly condemn the legislation, which opponents have labeled a "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Chapek said Disney would pause political donations in the state while the company comes up with a new framework for advocacy, including campaign giving. "You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down," Chapek said in his mea culpa. "I am sorry."

The protest organizers put up a website that includes a list of "demands" for the company to take "to regain the trust of the LGBTQIA+ community and employees."

Those demands include permanently ceasing donations to politicians "involved in the creation or passage" of the Florida bill. The website also calls on Disney to allocate spending for content representing LGBTQ people and create a label dedicated to such programming.

The organizers, who asked not to be identified out of fear of reprisals, have scheduled a series of 15-minute walkouts during employee breaks starting Monday, to culminate in a larger protest planned for March 22.

The walkout plans provoked discussion by Disney employees in the company's internal Slack instant messaging channels on Monday.

The protest does not appear to have been directly organized by any of the main LGBTQ employee resource groups within Disney, according to people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to comment. It is unclear how many people plan to participate.

The Disney Pride Advisory Group posted a message in Disney's Slack saying it had not organized the event, and would "neither endorse nor condemn these actions."

"The Pride Advisory Group is not here to police the ways in which people feel they want to advocate for themselves, but we are here to gather the community’s calls for change into a focused plan of action where we stand a greater chance of exacting lasting results," the post said.

The advisory group said it would hold a community town hall and is setting up meetings with executives across the company.

Employee groups within Disney were active in pressuring leadership to speak out on the bill, which passed the state legislature last week. The legislation would prohibit classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through Grade 3 and would allow parents to sue districts for violations.

Employees of Disney divisions, including Pixar Animation Studios, sent letters to top executives last week asking for further action on the Florida bill and other legislation making its way through the states.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has used the controversy to his advantage, blasting Chapek's statements opposing the bill as the "musings" of a "woke" corporation and calling out the firm for its silence on human rights abuses in China, where it does significant business.

This would be the latest example of employees at a major company staging a walkout over their bosses' decisions.

Last year transgender employees at Netflix held a virtual walkout to condemn the company's decision to air Dave Chappelle's comedy special "The Closer," which included multiple bits that critics said were harmful to the trans community.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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