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Disney vs. DeSantis: A timeline of Florida's bill dubbed 'Don't Say Gay' by critics

The two have nearly become synonymous with discussion surrounding the bill.

ORLANDO, Fla. — During the past three weeks, it has probably felt like Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have been making collective headlines in ways not seen before. 

You'd be right. The two have nearly become synonymous with discussion surrounding Florida's controversial "Parental Rights in Education" bill that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Critics have dubbed the legislation “Don’t Say Gay” because it bars educators from teaching LGBTQ-related topics within a curriculum to students in kindergarten through third grade.

But how did we get here? Well, it dates back to just one day prior to the legislation being passed by lawmakers on March 8.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek breaks silence

It's when Disney CEO Bob Chapek broke his silence on the legislation. At the time, ire began to grow from Disney fans and employees alike about the major corporation's lack of a stance. 

In a memo to staff, obtained by the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, Chapek addressed the "lack of a statement," adding that he had met with "a small group of Disney LGBTQ+ leaders" to discuss the bill and how it could impact the community.

"I want to be crystal clear: I and the entire leadership team unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities. And, we are committed to creating a more inclusive company — and world. I understand that the very need to reiterate that commitment means we still have more work to do," the memo reads.

While the comments were viewed as a response to backlash online with #DisneyDoBetter and #DisneySayGay flooding social media, it wasn't enough for everyone. 

At the time, Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of The Walt Disney Co. co-founder Roy O. Disney, called out Chapek for being "more worried about right-wing backlash" than employees and Disney lovers. She also called him the "wrong leadership for the wrong time."

Then came The Walt Disney Co.'s shareholder meeting on March 9 where Chapek changed his tune and took a stance against the bill for the first time, publicly.

"While we've been strong supporters of the [LGBTQ] community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” said Chapek during his opening statements. “We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.” 

Chapek has also said he called DeSantis to express "disappointment" and "concern" with the bill.

“The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address them,” Chapek said.

Gov. DeSantis doubles down on position

The governor's office confirmed to 10 Tampa Bay that DeSantis did take a call from Chapek but that his "position has not changed." 

"Disney is a family-friendly company that creates wholesome entertainment for kids. The same Florida parents who take their families to Disney also support parental rights in education, because they do not want their young children exposed to inappropriate content about sex and gender theory at school," a spokesperson for the governor's office wrote in an emailed statement, at the time.

DeSantis would later double down on not allowing Disney to sway his decision in both a campaign email and while speaking to supporters in Boca Raton. 

"Governor DeSantis’ policies are always going to be in the best interest of Florida citizens, not on the musings of woke corporations," the Team DeSantis email reads. 

It's a sentiment the governor also expressed in a 2:20 minute video obtained by Fox News where DeSantis, on March 10, told a group of supporters the chance that he will "back down" due to pressure from "woke" corporations is "zero." 

The governor also took aim at the theme park giant for alleged dealings with the Chinese Communist Party.

"I also think that if you have companies, like a Disney, that are gonna say and criticize parents' rights, they're gonna criticize the fact that we don't want transgenderism in kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. If that's the hill that they're gonna die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China?"

Disney suspends Florida political donations

After a week of backlash and headlines, The Walt Disney Co. took further action by announcing it would be pausing political donations in the Sunshine State. 

The stoppage on Florida-based political donations was said to be in place as Disney reworked its current system into one that "will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values." 

In the same announcement, Chapek also apologized to employees for the way things unfolded.

"It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights," Chapek's letter read. "You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry."

Disney employee walkouts begin

Disney workers held walkouts during their breaks every day between March 14-18 to protest Chapek’s slow response in publicly criticizing the controversial bill.

Organizers asked Disney workers to check in online with their plans to participate in the full-scale walkout. “We must make sure we have large enough numbers to be successful," they said.

Statements by Disney leadership over the Florida legislation “have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation," the group said.

"As a community, we have been forced into an impossible and unsustainable position. We must now take action to convince TWDC to protect employees and their families in the face of such open and unapologetic bigotry," the group continued.

A "full stage" walkout is now set for March 22. 

Disney releases statement in 'solidarity'

The same day DeSantis shared he will soon sign the "Parental Rights in Education" bill, Disney issued a new statement "in solidarity" with the LGBTQIA+ community.

The statement posted to Disney Parks' Facebook and Instagram pages is as follows: 

"To ALL who come to this happy place, welcome. 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, and Imagineers and fans who make their voices heard today and every day."

The post included the outline of a Mickey head filled with colors of the LGBTQIA+ Pride flag.

DeSantis signs 'Parental Rights' bill into law

On March 28, DeSantis signed the divisive bill into law while at Classical Preparatory School in Spring Hill. 

"In Florida, we will make sure that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination," DeSantis said during the news conference.

The governor shared examples from around the country in which he said schools taught material about "sexuality and woke gender ideology" to young kids. Two parents also joined DeSantis to share experiences in which they felt Florida schools taught their kids material relating to gender identity without their knowledge.

"This is part of a national trend to cut parents out of their child's education," DeSantis said. "In Florida, we not only know that parents have a right to be involved, we insist that parents have a right to be involved."

Disney calls for law to be struck down or repealed

Within an hour of DeSantis signing the controversial bill into law, The Walt Disney Co. issued its latest in a string of public statements since facing backlash over its silence. 

"Florida's HB 1557, also known as the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, should never have been passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country," Disney's statement read.

DeSantis says Disney has 'crossed the line'

During a March 29 press conference, DeSantis took a moment to address Disney's latest statement regarding its "goal" for the law to be struck down or repealed.

“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think, one was fundamentally dishonest but two, I think that crossed the line. This state is governed by the interest of the people of the state of Florida. It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives. They do not run this state. They do not control this state," DeSantis said. 

The governor added that when talking with Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls it was noted that Disney never called to express issue with the bill while it moved through the Florida Legislature. 

“If this was such an affront, why weren’t they speaking up at the outset? And yet they won’t," DeSantis said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

    

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