Disney and DeSantis: The Fallout of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill

Disney and DeSantis: The Fallout of Floridas Parental Rights in Education Bill

Naomi Engle, Staff writer

The Parental Rights in Education bill in Florida, infamously known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, has sparked widespread backlash and controversy.  The bill, signed by Governor Ron DeSantis on March 28th, would prohibit the teaching of any sexual health or gender education in K-8 schools, effective July 1st.  While the bill has been heralded by far-right conservatives, it has received much criticism within the predominantly-liberal Disney workforce.  

The struggle between Florida and the company is deeply rooted in Disney’s political ties, but has escalated over recent months to a full-blown legislative fight that could deal deep blows to both parties involved.  It comes on the heels of Disney’s announcement to relocate 2,000 of its California-based employees to Florida due to its more “business-friendly climate” by 2024, a move that was already unpopular with some employees.  Relocating these workers and their families from a primarily-liberal state to a conservative one amidst DeSantis’ pushing of his legislation has sparked anger within the company.

This unrest culminated in a walkout on March 15th, both on Zoom and through in-person demonstrations.  The orchestrators of the walkout also sent an open letter to CEO Bob Chapek with their concerns.  “Our community will not sit silently while [Disney] fails in its obligations to advocate for employees it claims to support with ‘unwavering commitment’, profits off our labor, and boasts of record profits it has used to fund politicians who legislate unsafe schools for our youth,” the letter states.  

Chapek did respond to this in an email sent to over 200,000 employees.  “We all share the same goal of a more tolerant, respectful world.  Where we may differ is in the tactics to get there.  And because this struggle is much bigger than any one bill in any one state, I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create, and the diverse community organizations we support,” the letter read.  Chapek also paused all campaign donations to Florida, though Disney had already given over $4 million in 2020 alone.  

Republican lawmakers in Florida fought back, voting to send a bill to DeSantis’ desk that would eliminate Disney’s privileges as a self-governing body in the state.  This bill, which DeSantis signed yesterday, will also restrict Disney World’s autonomy over the police and fire forces that have operated within the property for years.  DeSantis cited Chapek’s actions as him flaunting a “Woke Disney” and criticized him in an appearance with Fox and Friends: “There’s policy disputes and that’s fine, but when you’re trying to impose a woke ideology on our state, we view that as a significant threat”.  

This rivalry, with its entrance onto the legislative floor, is now something for both parties to tread lightly on, as the economic stakes are high. Disney relies on Florida to host its multi-billion dollar parks, while also being the state’s largest employer, so pushing the issue too far could damage Florida’s travel economy, as well as cause a meltdown within the Disney workforce. With DeSantis eyeing a rumored 2024 presidential campaign, his fight with Disney has allied him with the far right, who have praised his actions.  As for Chapek, he finds himself in a tougher spot than before, walking the line between the competing concerns of his employees and his need to not antagonize DeSantis any further.  Whatever the outcome, it is likely to have long-term economic consequences that cannot be predicted just yet.