Revelers carry a Disney logo during the Pride in London Parade on July 06, 2019 in London, England. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
Inside the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney Company employees feel “exhausted” but “hopeful” as they prepare to stand down against CEO Bob Chapek.
At issue: Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, slammed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would ban classroom discussion of LGBT+ identities before fourth grade.
As the state’s largest private sector employer, Disney has faced criticism for not publicly condemning the bill. Reports that the company has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawmakers who backed the bill have only added fuel to the fire.
When Chapek temporarily suspended donations, it was too late. The law had already been passed by the state legislature, and in the eyes of many gay Disney workers, it just wasn’t good enough.
For the past week, LGBT+ Disney staff and their allies have held daily 15-minute digital walkouts, culminating in an in-person walkout on Tuesday, March 20.
For some bogged down employees, it was a matter of protesting or leaving the company altogether.
In a joint interview, LGBT+ workers said PinkNews that it’s hard not to go a day without hearing about the protests – and the allies are more than ready to hear their “march orders”.
Disney staff feel ‘exhausted’ but electrified by company-wide support for walkouts
Organized as the Disney Do Better group, they said: “The conversation is everywhere, it’s hard to go real time without hearing about it, whether or not you’re directly involved with the organization.
“People want to know what’s going on, how they can help and what their marching orders are because everyone is excited.”
It’s hard to use a single word to sum up the feelings of the more than 203,000 people The Walt Disney Company employs, but there’s definitely a common theme: burnout.
“It has generally been a consistently draining experience for the entire LGBTQIA+ community inside Disney,” they said, “and our allies have taken notice.”
According to organizers, the walkout includes staff from the offices of Disney, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Bento Box, Disney Television Animation, Disney Animation Studio, and more.
Earlier this month, Chapek declined to publicly oppose SB 1834. A Chapek-led Disney is one who believes that “corporate statements do very little” but “diverse stories” are “more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort,” he wrote in an insider. note.
“Infuriating, frustrating and upsetting in every way,” the Disney Do Better Walkout members said of Chapek’s response.
“Some people even felt the urge to quit multiple times because they weren’t convinced he was supporting us.”
As a company veteran CEO Robert Iger did what many hoped Chapek would do – speak out against ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill – frustrated voice actors, writers and further amplified the pressure for Chapek to act.
The 61-year-old, who received the keys to the Disney Kingdom in 2020, finally admitted that he “let [the company] down” in a company-wide memo.
“I missed the mark in this case,” he wrote, “but I am an ally you can count on.” He said he would donate $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign – the LGBT+ charity has refused the donation until Disney takes “meaningful action” against the bill.
As Disney braces for more walkouts, ‘exhausted’ LGBT+ staff feel ‘sense of hope’
In an open letter posted on WhereIsChapek.com, a website created by Disney Do Better, workers handed Disney bosses a plan to restore trust between the company and LGBT+ people.
Among their demands are improved LGBT+ representation, a permanent halt to donations to supporters of “Don’t Say Gay” and Florida’s withdrawal until “hate” legislation is removed.
“It’s certainly one piece of the puzzle of creating a more inclusive and safer world for the LBGTQIA+ community,” the organizers said, “but what’s most important is that they don’t give money to the creation of militarized and hateful legislation”.
Disney reportedly donated $300,000 to those who voted for the bill, according to an analysis by Popular Information. At least three Disney entities have cut checks for Bill’s top backers by about $4,000 combined for their 2022 re-election campaigns.
When it comes to portraying LGBT+ lives on the silver screen, the members of Disney Do Better had some advice for storytellers, especially since Disney bosses have reportedly removed LGBT+ representation from some films.
“Wrapping LGBTQIA+ representation in the word ‘authenticity’ can be a trap,” they said.
“Let us exist the way LGBTQIA+ storytellers want to tell the story that is in their hearts.
“We should be able to exist as ridiculous, out-of-this-world archetypes just as much as we should be able to exist as grounded, salt of the earth.”
As walkouts rumble on computer screens, internal Disney pride groups are adding pressure on Disney bosses to act.
And LGBT+ Disney staff know that tomorrow they’re risking their livelihoods — their dreams — by going out for the day because it’s not a legally protected action.
But as staff set Zoom backgrounds to Pride flags and out-of-office absences are activated, Disney staff are feeling something other than exhaustion: hope.
“There is a sense of hope,” they said, “that because we are all so upset collectively, something positive will come out of all of this.”