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After protests, Disney CEO speaks out against Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' bill

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Chris Pizzello
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Invision/AP
Disney CEO Bob Chapek speaks at Disney's California Adventure Park in June 2021.

Disney employees are showing their outrage over the entertainment company's decision not to denounce Florida's so-called 'Don't Say Gay' bill, which would limit discussion of sexuality and gender in Florida schools.

The Florida Senate passed the bill Tuesday, and it now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis's desk. It's the latest effort by Republican lawmakers to remove the teaching of LGBTQ issues from schools.

Florida's Senate bill reads, "A school district may not encourage classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels," according to the text.

Ben Siemon, an actor and writer whose credits include Disney's DuckTales, posted an impassioned video plea calling for Disney to say the bill is wrong.

Siemon credits one of his middle school teachers for helping him understand that it was OK to be gay. Had there been a bill like the one being considered in Florida, Siemon says, "That would've never happened to me. I would've been left alone and scared. And LGBT kids are going to be left alone and scared and hurt by this bill."

Siemon implored the company to stop supporting those politicians, ending with the words, "Disney, please say gay."

According to the accountability news site Popular Information, "in the last two years, Disney has donated $197,162 to members of the Florida legislature that have already voted for the 'Don't Say Gay' legislation," including to sponsors of the bill, Florida Rep. Joe Harding (R) and state Sen. Dennis Baxley (R).

Animator and director Dana Terrace, who created Disney's animated series The Owl House, joined in the protest. Terrace called for action: a livestream for charity on March 13 to go to organizations that support LGBT youth.

"Working for this company has...made me so distraught," Terrace says in the video. "I hate, I hate having moral quandaries about how I feed myself and how I support my loved ones."

On Monday, Disney CEO Bob Chapek wrote in a memo to employees, "I believe the best way for our company to bring about lasting change is through the inspiring content we produce and the diverse organizations we support."

Yet he seemed to leave the door open for future changes in the company's approach: "I can also share that Geoff Morrell, our new Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, will be reassessing our advocacy strategies around the world—including political giving," Chapek wrote in the memo, which Disney provided to NPR.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.