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A Disney employee protests outside Walt Disney World

Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

'We Need Action': Disney Workers Stage Walkout Over Company's Failure to Fight 'Don't Say Gay' Bill

"Cast members' identities are not 'political issues,'" said organizers. "Our safety and well-being is crucial to the success of this company."

Julia Conley

LGBTQ+ employees and their allies at the Walt Disney Company staged an all-day walkout Tuesday to protest CEO Bob Chapek's response to Florida's so-called Parental Rights in Education bill, which organizers said has been far too weak to pressure GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis to reject the legislation.

"Disney can and should use its influence to be an ally."

The walkout came days after workers staged smaller protests during their 15-minute breaks last week and wrote an open letter to the company's leadership, demanding an end to Disney's donations to DeSantis and lawmakers who have pushed what critics are calling the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

Workers say the company must protect its employees from anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the state, particularly as Disney is planning to relocate 2,000 jobs from California to Florida.

Supporters including Kaden Westbrook, an animator at Disney TV Animation in Los Angeles, posted messages of solidarity on social media.

"The company has taken steps to apologize" for its refusal to take a public stand against the bill, Westbrook said, "but we need action NOW."

As Common Dreams reported last week, Chapek has declined to speak out publicly against the Don't Say Gay legislation, which would ban discussions about "gender identity or sexual orientation"—at least those pertaining to LGBTQ+ people—in public schools up to third grade.

At a company town hall meeting on Monday, the executive told workers he plans to embark on a "listening tour," and said earlier this month that the company will be "reassessing our approach to advocacy," including political donations.

Disney has given nearly $107,000 to DeSantis's political action committee and thousands of dollars each to the state legislators who have pushed the Don't Say Gay proposal, which critics say will stigmatize young LGBTQ+ children as well as those with gay or transgender parents or family members.

"Cast members' identities are not 'political issues,'" wrote the organizers in an open letter earlier this month. "Our safety and well-being is crucial to the success of this company, no cast member or their families should be forced to live in fear, and it is unacceptable to use the profits from our labor to take our human rights away."

National LGBTG+ rights group PFLAG called on Disney to "use its influence to be an ally."

According to the Los Angeles Times, about 100 workers assembled Tuesday morning outside the Roy E. Disney Animation Building at the company's Burbank, California lot, holding signs reading, "Disney Say Gay” and "#disneydobetter."

CNBC producer Steve Desaulniers reported that "hundreds" of workers took park in the protest in Burbank.

It was unclear Tuesday afternoon how many workers participated in the walkout across the country at Disney's properties, including Pixar Animation Studios, Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and corporate offices, where many employees are now working remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers said that despite Chapek's claim at the town hall meeting that the company stands for "inclusion," workers at Disneyland in Anaheim, California had been informed that they should not wear Disney-branded LGBTQ+ pride pins in solidarity with those walking out Tuesday.

"This [is] all happening while many sectors of the company have been internally supportive of employees walking out tomorrow," said organizers. "Front-line workers, the most vulnerable of us, not [being] given the respect they deserve is shameful."

Writer and actor Benjamin Siemon, a Disney employee, noted that the influential company—Florida's largest private employer—has pressured political figures to reject bigoted policies in the past, when the company threatened to halt production in Georgia in 2016 if the governor signed a so-called "religious freedom" bill that would have allowed companies to refuse services to LGBTQ+ people.

"States only reverse hateful policies when it threatens them financially, yet Disney still plans to move thousands of jobs to Florida," said Siemon. "If it [wants] to walk the walk Disney should end these plans ASAP."

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