DeSantis faces backlash from LGBTQ community, Disney workers over so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill

By: and - March 22, 2022 1:27 pm

Cinderella Castle, the icon of Magic Kingdom, is a tourist mecca and part of the Walt Disney World resort in central Florida. Credit: Wikipedia.

From Disney employees prepared to walk out to Twitter religious references, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill has prompted nationwide outcries from LGBTQ communities, allies and families.

And it’s centered around Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.

State lawmakers who have approved the controversial bill have yet to send the legislation to DeSantis, who must okay it — or not.

But at a press conference Tuesday, DeSantis declared that he’d sign HB 1557 “relatively soon.”

The governor also responded to a reporter’s question about a Tuesday walkout planned at Walt Disney World in the Orlando area. Critics of the bill say it creates a potential chilling effect on classroom discussions of LGBTQ people and students in public school classrooms. But GOP lawmakers didn’t view it that way. And neither does DeSantis.

“So I would just tell people it’s a free country,” the governor said. “Do what you believe in, but understand, if you are out protesting this bill, you are by definition putting yourself in favor of injecting sexual instruction to five, six and seven-year-old kids. I think most people think that’s wrong. I think parents especially think that’s wrong.”

On March 11, Walt Disney CEO Bob Chapek issued a written statement, saying “we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida,” pending an internal review of their political donations.

In California, around lunch time in that state, some Disney employees were walking out, chanting “Say Gay,” according to a Twitter video post.

State Rep. Joe Harding. Credit: Florida House of Representatives

Earlier, a Twitter frenzy erupted when Central Florida tornadoes damaged homes, including the home of bill sponsor Joe Harding, a Republican representing Levy and part of Marion counties in the state House.

Reports about Harding’s home damaged by severe weather triggered criticism from a Twitter user, who took to Twitter on Wednesday, with a post directed at Harding: “I’m not a believer, but the tornado that just ripped apart the home of the author of Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law is making me reconsider.”

He added: “Hey, Joe Harding, God thinks you’re a rotten bigot and just b****-slapped you.” Harding hasn’t responded to a request for comment from the Florida Phoenix.

The bill, which is actually named Parental Rights in Education, was approved in the waning days of the 2022 legislative session.

In the Legislature, it was a bitter, emotional atmosphere, especially for openly gay lawmakers.

The bill provides parents the opportunity to sue if a school district withholds certain information from them about their child’s well-being or if their child is exposed to instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity deemed not “age-appropriate.” That could mean everything from the very early grades to high school.

On Tuesday around 11 a.m., a reporter in the Orlando area tweeted an image of a lone protester outside of Disney in that area, with a sign that read “Trans Rights Are Human Rights.”

But it’s unclear how many protests over the issue have taken place in Florida on that day.

Following reports about the Disney walkouts across the nation due to lawmakers passing the legislation, Walt Disney World provided a statement Tuesday morning on Instagram in support of LGBTQ rights.

“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,” Walt Disney World said.

“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.”

Employees from the LGBTQ community and their allies at the Walt Disney Company planned a full-day of walkouts Tuesday in Florida, in which employees and allies from the LGBTQ community designed a website featuring a list of demands for the Walt Disney Company.

For example, the group wrote that Disney must “immediately and indefinitely cease all campaign donations,” including several Republican state lawmakers and Gov. DeSantis.

A civil rights organization said in a press release Tuesday that it had been in contact with Chapek of Disney about how his company can take “meaningful action” to support its employees and oppose the legislation that critics say could threaten the rights of the LGBTQ people.

“We stand in solidarity with the brave LGBTQ+ employees at Disney and their allies who are calling for more from their leadership,” Joni Madison, interim president of Human Rights Campaign, said in a written statement.

“These employees know that corporations like Disney have a real role to play in combating discriminatory legislation – not only the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill in Florida, but also the attacks on transgender youth we’re seeing in states like Texas and Alabama.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.

Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.