‘I let you down:’ Disney CEO pauses political donations amid ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill backlash

Disney CEO Bob Chapek makes apologies, promises in email

Disney comes out against Gov. Ron DeSantis' support of the bill.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Friday in an apologetic email to employees that he “missed the mark” in his response to the outcry over HB 1557, the controversial Florida legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, adding that the company will pause its political donations in the state.

Chapek’s comments landed in cast members’ inboxes days after the bill landed on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, sent there by Florida lawmakers after finding approval in the state House and Senate.

[TRENDING: Strong storms on the way to Central Florida, then a HUGE drop in temperatures | DeSantis blasts Disney for ‘woke’ response on Florida sexual identity in schools bill | Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

“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,” Chapek said in the statement. “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.”

Proponents of the bill point to its language as neutral, pro-parent legislation, while its opponents feel that the same text serves to invalidate and marginalize LGBTQ+ students and their identities. In a fundraising email Thursday, DeSantis said the bill “sensibly prohibits K-3rd graders from being indoctrinated with transgenderism and R-rated lessons about sexuality.”

At a rally in Boca Raton on Thursday, DeSantis criticized Chapek’s outspoken disappointment over the bill, accusing Disney of succumbing to “phony hysteria” and calling the company “woke.”

“If that’s the hill they’re going to die on, then how do they possibly explain lining their pockets with their relationship from the Communist Party of China?” DeSantis said.

Between May 18, 2019 and March 30, 2021, records show Disney donated $106,809.38 to Friends of Ron DeSantis, the governor’s Political Action Committee, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

According to Chapek’s message Friday, in which he said Disney will immediately pause its political donations in Florida, the figure will stay that way for the time being.

Disney companies have donated $2,109,361.87 in the last year for the 2022 election cycle alone, according to the Florida Division of Elections, with hundreds of thousands of dollars going to Republican Party-affiliated groups compared to Democratic Party-affiliated groups.

At a shareholders meeting Wednesday, Chapek said Disney opposed the bill “from the outset,” yet did not initially take a public position on it as the company attempted to work “behind the scenes” to change DeSantis’ mind.

Chapek on Friday pledged to increase Disney’s support for LGBTQ+ advocacy groups as he said he strives to be a better ally to the community, and promised more news of the company’s progress to that effect “in the coming weeks.”

“I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community,” Chapek said. “I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on—and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”

Many LGBTIQ+ organizations say yes, this is a step in the right direction with Disney making its latest commitment to put a pause on its political donations in Florida, but News 6′s political analyst says it’s the word “pause” ‘that makes him want to wait and see what the big mouse does.

“What’s going to be interesting here is whether Disney sticks with this or simply allows the anger die down,” said analyst Jim Clark, who said this type of statement is too familiar.

“After Jan. 6th at the U.S Capitol, when dozens of companies announced they were pausing political contributions to candidates, but within a few months the pause ended,” Clark said.

Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’ spokesperson, tweeted a response to the letter, saying Disney should not have said anything about the bill.

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation held two demonstrations in both Florida and California against the bill and called on the Big Mouse to speak up.

Now with Disney’s latest statement, Michael Kahane with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation said, “I am pleased with the position that Disney has taken, although I am disappointed in the process it took to get here.”

Clark says with DeSantis favoring the bill he will likely sign. However, he says the state will likely see court battles challenging the constitutionality of this piece of legislation.

Read Chapek’s full statement below:

About the Authors:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.

Brian Didlake joined the News 6 team as a reporter in March 2021.