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Disney employees criticize company's LGBT advocacy: 'Just another thing we divide over'

Disney
Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting outside of Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022, in Orlando, Florida. |

Disney employees are speaking out anonymously against the company’s LGBT advocacy, warning that its continued opposition to a parental rights bill recently passed by the Florida legislature will risk losing its reputation as a source of national unity.

Employees at the Walt Disney Company have published an open letter calling for a “politically neutral Disney” as the company faces backlash from LGBT activists for what they viewed as an inadequate response to HB 1557.

The legislation at issue seeks to ban “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation and gender identity” for kindergarten through third-grade students.

After initial backlash from LGBT advocates, the company and its subsidiaries, such as ESPN, have since made their opposition to the bill more clear. Not only has Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoken with Gov. Ron DeSantis about the bill, but ESPN held a moment of silence during its coverage of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament to protest the bill. 

The employees who object to Disney’s LGBT activism said that they had concerns with the company’s direction long before the bill was introduced.

While the employees insisted that they love their jobs with Disney, whose popular theme park Walt Disney World is based in Florida, they reported feeling “increasingly invisible” within their workplace.

“The Walt Disney Company has come to be an increasingly uncomfortable place to work for those of us whose political and religious views are not explicitly progressive,” they wrote. “We watch quietly as our beliefs come under attack from our own employer, and we frequently see those who share our opinions condemned as villains by our own leadership.”

The anonymous group of employees specifically addressed “the company’s evolving response to the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation,” which they maintained has “left many of us wondering what place we have in a company actively promoting a political agenda so far removed from our own.”

“TWDC leadership frequently communicates its commitment to creating an inclusive workplace where cast members feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and being their authentic selves at work. That is not our workplace experience,” the letter reads. 

“We have watched as our colleagues, convinced that no one in the company could possibly disagree with them, grow increasingly aggressive in their demands. They insist that TWDC take a strong stance on not only this issue but other legislation and openly advocate for the punishment of employees who disagree with them.”

The employees noted that Disney’s “unique brand of family entertainment” has served “an objective good in the world” that has brought people together. However, they believe that by taking “sides in political debates,” the world is deprived of a “shared love we all have in common.”

The letter praised Chapek’s initial reaction to the outcry over HB 1557, where he asserted that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds.”

Agreeing with Chapek that corporate statements on hot-button political issues “are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame,” the concerned employees predicted that Disney will remain “far more important and impactful to the world by avoiding politics than it will ever be by embracing a political agenda.”

The employees concluded the letter by proclaiming that “Disney shouldn’t be a vehicle for one demographic’s political activism.”

“More than ever, the world needs things that we can unite around. That’s the most valuable role The Walt Disney Company could play in the world at this time,” the letter asserts. “It’s a role we’ve played for nearly a century, and it would be a shame to throw all of that away in the face of left-wing political pressure. Please don’t let Disney become just another thing we divide over.”

The anonymous letter came as other Disney employees staged walkouts in response to Chapek's initial reaction to the Florida bill. A group of LGBT employees at Pixar, Disney’s animation studio, published a separate letter accusing Disney leaders of not doing enough to push back on HB 1557.

Describing themselves as “disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry,” the LGBT Pixar employees lamented that while “we hoped that our company would show up for us,” “it didn’t.”

While the March 9 letter primarily focused on outrage related to HB 1557, the employees claimed that Pixar, which makes films for younger audiences, has removed scenes that showed intimate moments between gay characters.

“We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were,” the March 9 letter states. 

“Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar.”

“Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it,” the letter added. “Beyond the ‘inspiring content’ that we aren’t even allowed to create, we require action.”

Variety reports that Pixar’s next feature film, ‘Lightyear' features a major female character who is in a relationship with another woman.

Although Pixar initially cut a gay kiss from the film, it was added back after some employees protested against its removal, according to Variety. 

Two days after the Pixar employees sent their letter to executives, Chapek replied in a letter stating in part: “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

“Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states,” he announced. “I am committed to this work and to you all, and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally.”

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis defended HB 1557 earlier this month when a reporter asked him for his thoughts on what critics have deemed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” The governor pointed out that the bill does not actually have the word “gay” in the legislation and lambasted the media for peddling “false narratives.”

“Lightyear” is scheduled to hit movie theaters on June 17, according to the Internet Movie Database. The film’s release comes 27 years after the cartoon film “Toy Story” first introduced the Buzz Lightyear character to the world. In “Toy Story” and its sequels, comedian Tim Allen of “Home Improvement” fame provided the voice of the character.

Although LGBT-identified employees at Pixar believe that their company has not adequately included members of their community in its programming, the studio has worked to increase the presence and prevalence of LGBT characters in its films in recent years. 

In 2020, Pixar unveiled its first-ever lesbian heroine in the film “Onward,” where the movie’s protagonist was in an open relationship with another female character.

That same year, Pixar introduced an openly gay main character in the short film “Out,” which premiered on the streaming service Disney+. The push by Pixar and other studios to include LGBT characters in their programming follows a call from the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD to make 20% of all television characters LGBT by 2025.

It was reported last year that Disney Channel’s reboot of the “The Proud Family” animated series will feature same-sex parents. 

Additionally, the main character of the Disney Channel cartoon “The Owl House” is bisexual.

The Disney Channel depicted its first teenage gay couple in the series “Andi Mack” in 2019. 

For Pride Month last year, Disney unveiled a line of toys and clothes decorated with LGBT rainbow flag designs. 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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