ORLANDO, Fla. — After a week of backlash over Disney CEO Bob Chapek's silence on a controversial Florida bill that limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity at younger grade levels, the company has announced it will be pausing political donations in the Sunshine State.
In a letter sent to employees and published on the company's website, Chapek said, in part, that the criticism he's recently faced has helped him "better understand" what his lack of a statement on the legislation meant.
"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."
The CEO says the company would halt its political donations in the state as it reworked its current system into one that "will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values."
On Tuesday, Florida lawmakers passed HB 1557, officially called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill. Opponents dubbed it “Don’t Say Gay” because it bars educators from teaching LGBTQ-related topics within a curriculum to students in kindergarten through third grade.
School districts may also opt to ban topics of sexual orientation or gender identity beyond third grade if leaders deem them not to be age or developmentally appropriate.
During a shareholder meeting on Wednesday, Chapek made his first comments on the bill, telling them he would speak to Gov. Ron DeSantis over his "disappointment" with the legislation.
The governor's office confirmed to 10 Tampa Bay that DeSantis took a call from Chapek on Wednesday but that his "position has not changed." An in-person meeting had not been scheduled between the two.
Since then, the governor's office released a statement to 10 Tampa Bay Monday, March 14, on Disney's ultimate decision to suspend political donations. It reads:
"No amount of money would convince the governor to change his position. No matter what woke corporations do, Governor DeSantis will never compromise when it comes to protecting children and parents’ rights."
Part of the remedy to Chapek's backlash was to also have the Walt Disney Co. reportedly pledge $5 million to organizations working to protect LGBTQ+ rights. However, concerns over the company's political contributions also bubbled to the surface over reports that said the company had previously backed politicians who supported the controversial bill.
The Human Rights Campaign announced it would not accept the donation until Disney builds "on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals...don't become dangerous laws."
Chapek said the company will continue providing updates on its progress in the coming weeks.
"I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community. I missed the mark in this case 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 letter read, in part.