Disney creative leaders express frustration to CEO Chapek over ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill response

Bob Chapek, Disney CEO at the Boston College Chief Executives Club, November 15, 2021.

Charles Krupa | AP

Senior leaders across Disney’s creative studios have expressed their frustration to CEO Bob Chapek about his handling of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida, people familiar with the matter told CNBC.

Chapek met with senior leadership groups from the media giant’s creative studios after the company’s annual meeting March 9. Many have expressed frustration with Disney’s reluctance to take a firm stand against the bill, the people said.

Employees also raised concerns in the wake of the meeting, saying Chapek didn’t respond critically to homophobic comments made by a shareholder during the Q&A period, according to the people, who asked to remain anonymous to discuss internal conversations at Disney.

Chapek and Disney faced pressure for not coming out earlier in opposition to the Parental Rights in Education bill in Florida. The legislation prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools for kindergarten through third grade. It has been dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” and criticized by advocates who believe the bill could do harm to marginalized people.

In the past week, executives have been hosting town halls and meeting with employees to hear their frustrations and concerns, the people said. Some were reassured by an email Chapek sent Friday to express his commitment to support and engage with the LGBTQ+ community and to pause all political donations in Florida, pending review.

Still, many of those people say they are waiting to see the company take appropriate action against the bill. Some employees have organized a walkout, in protest, on Tuesday.

The walkout is set to coincide with the time of a company “reimagine tomorrow” event. This event was scheduled on March 2, and these regular discussions typically cover timely issues and are held monthly. Tuesday’s is called “LGBTQ+ Employees, Leaders and Allies Get Disney Real.”

The invitation to the virtual event, which went out on Thursday morning, reads: “Employees can expect an honest conversation addressing the following: How does the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and other pending legislation impact LGBTQ+ kids and families? Why have LGBTQ+BERG leaders and allies organized internally to hold the company accountable? What will it take to rebuild trust with our employees and LGBTQ+ communities?”

It’s unclear how many people will participate in Tuesday’s walkout. Only a fraction of employees have been coming into work on the lot.

Disney did not comment for this article.

Chapek’s email to employees on Friday addressed the broader frustration.

He wrote: “Thank you to all who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company’s response to the Florida ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was. It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights. You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

He announced that the company is increasing its support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in other states and is pausing all political donations in the state of Florida.

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