Walt Disney Company employees prepare to walk out against company CEO Bob Chapek who failed to condemn ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.
As the state’s largest private-sector employer, Disney faced significant criticism for not publicly condemning the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill. Reports indicated that the company donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to lawmakers who backed the controversial bill.
Bob Chapek temporarily paused donations. However, by this time, the law had already passed the state’s legislature, and in the eyes of many LGBTQ+ Disney workers, it simply wasn’t enough.
Since last week, LGBT+ Disney staff and their allies have staged daily 15-minute digital walkouts, culminating with an in-person walkout last Tuesday, on the 20th of March 2022.
Disney staff feel ‘exhausted’ yet electrified by company-wide support to walkouts
Organising as the Disney Do Better group, they said, “The conversation is everywhere. It’s hard to go any real length of time without hearing about it, whether or not you’re directly involved with organising. People want to know what’s happening, how they can help and what their marching orders are because everyone is fired up. It’s generally been a constantly exhausting experience for all of the LGBTQIA+ community inside Disney,” they said, “and our allies have taken notice of that.”
According to organisers, the walkout includes staffers from Disney’s corporate offices, Lucasfilm, Pixar, Bento Box, Disney Television Animation, the Disney Animation Studio and more.
Earlier this month (March), Chapek refused to publicly oppose the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. A Disney helmed by Chapek is one that feels “corporate statements do very little” but “diverse stories” are “more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort”, he wrote in an internal memo. “Infuriating, frustrating, and upsetting in every way,” Disney Do Better Walkout members said of Chapek’s response.
“Some people even felt the desire to quit multiple times because they weren’t convinced he had our backs.” As the company’s former CEO Robert Iger did what many hoped Chapek would – denounce the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill – frustrated voice actors, writers and other employees amped up the pressure for Chapek to act.
The 61-year-old, given the keys to the Disney kingdom in 2020, eventually admitted that he “let the company down” in a Disney wide notice. “I missed the mark in this case,” he wrote, “but am an ally you can count on.” He pledged to donate $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign. However, the LGBT+ charity refused the donation until Disney takes “meaningful action” against the bill.
As Disney braces for further walkouts, ‘exhausted’ LGBT+ staff feel “a sense of hope”
In an open letter published to WhereIsChapek.com, a website created by Disney Do Better, workers handed Disney bosses a blueprint to rebuilding trust between the company and LGBT+ people. Among their demands were improving LGBT+ representation, permanently stopping donations to ‘Don’t Say Gay’ supporters and pulling back from Florida until the “hateful” legislation is scrapped.
“It’s certainly a piece of the puzzle of creating a more inclusive and safe world for the LBGTQIA+ community,” organisers said. “But what is most important is they are not giving money to the creation of weaponized and hateful legislation.”
An analysis from Popular Information found Disney has given over $300,000 to those who voted for the bill. At least three Disney entities cut cheques for the bill’s top backers around $4,000 combined for their 2022 re-election campaigns.
When it comes to representing LGBT+ lives on the silver screen, Disney Do Better members had some tips for storytellers, especially considering Disney bosses have allegedly edited out LGBT+ representation from some films altogether. “Wrapping LGBTQIA+ representation in the word ‘authenticity’ can be a trap,” they said. “Let us exist in any way LGBTQIA+ storytellers want in order to tell the story that’s 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 ones.”
As the walkouts continue to spread across the staff’s computer screens, Disney’s internal Pride groups are adding to the pressure for Disney executives to take action and respond. By walking out for the day, LGBT+ Disney staff know they’re risking their livelihoods and their dreams, as it’s not a legally protected action. But as staff set their Zoom backgrounds to Pride flags and out-of-office responses are switched on, Disney staff feel something else other than exhaustion and distress; they feel hope.
“There is a sense of hope,” they said, “that because we’re all so collectively upset, something positive will come out of all of this.”