‘Our original approach didn’t quite get the job done’: Disney CEO Bob Chapek caves to pressure over company stance on ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

March 10, 2022, 9:56 AM UTC

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek reversed an earlier decision and said the company is now publicly opposed to Florida legislation that would ban discussion of sexual orientation with younger children in schools.

Chapek told shareholders at the company’s annual meeting Wednesday that he called Governor Ron DeSantis and will schedule a meeting with him and Disney employees to discuss the bill. Chapek said the company will oppose similar legislation across the country.

The Florida legislation, which critics call the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, specifies that classroom instruction “on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate.” Proponents say it will ensure that parents can talk to their children about those subjects without interference from teachers.

Chapek sent employees a letter on March 7 telling them that the company wouldn’t take a position on the legislation although it supports gay, lesbian and transgender rights. Chapek argued that taking political positions can hurt a cause rather than help. Several Disney employees took to social media to speak out against that decision.

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At the meeting, Chapek said the company was opposed to the bill from the start but thought it could work with Florida lawmakers to “achieve a better outcome.”

Florida state senators approved the bill on Tuesday and sent it to DeSantis, who has supported the measure and is expected to sign it.

“I understand our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn’t quite get the job done,” Chapek said. “But we’re committed to support the community going forward.”

Shares of Burbank, California-based Disney rose 1.6% to $133.90 at 3:45 p.m. in New York. They had declined 15% this year through Tuesday’s close.

Investors both opposed to and supportive of the Florida legislation spoke at the Disney shareholder meeting, which was held virtually. Disney is one of the largest employers in the state due to its theme parks there. 

Disney investors approved all of the company’s board nominees. Some 84% of shareholders approved Disney’s executive compensation plan, a high number for a company that historically had to defend its pay. 

Shareholders rejected proposals that would have required reports on discrimination, spending on lobbying and human rights, as well as one changing how company meetings are called. A majority of investors approved a proposal calling for disclosure of pay levels for employees, including women and minorities. Disney’s board opposed it.

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