The war between Disney and Florida keeps escalating. Here are 5 key turning points in the battle

April 20, 2022, 11:00 AM UTC

Florida legislation formally known “Parental Rights in Education”— “Don’t Say Gay” by its many detractors—has trapped the Walt Disney Company in a web of controversy since early March. Though Disney and CEO Bob Chapek initially refused to comment on the legislation, the company now publicly opposes it—a position that now, two months later, is spurring Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to consider revoking special privileges that the company has enjoyed for over half a century.

Here’s a timeline of what’s gone down.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill

HB 1557, which DeSantis has signed into law, prohibits “the classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida’s primary schools. The bill helped instigate a wave of similar proposals by Republican legislators across the country that take aim at LGBTQIA+ discourse in school settings. 

Similar bills are being considered in Alabama, Ohio, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Tennessee, all with varying degrees of support and success.

Chapek backtracks on silence

On March 7, Chapek sent employees a letter saying that Disney would take no position on the proposed legislation, though he affirmed the company’s support for LGBTQIA+ rights. He wrote, “As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”

The statement quickly prompted Disney employees and fans to speak out, arguing that the company has a responsibility to influence legislation that could threaten young queer people in the state. Chapek capitulated two days later, and the company publicly opposed the bill at an annual shareholder meeting. “I understand our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn’t quite get the job done,” he said. “But we’re committed to supporting the community going forward.” On March 11, Chapek apologized further in a letter to employees: “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights.”

Disney workers mobilize

Chapek’s apology did not come quickly enough, and workers who count themselves among the LGBTQIA+ community and its supporters mobilized. They published an open letter criticizing the company’s response, saying, “While we certainly appreciate Bob Chapek’s apology note, there is still more work to be done.” The letter included an outline for the company to follow in order to “regain trust of the LGBTQIA+ community and employees.” The workers also organized a series of protests and walkouts.

Chapek doubles down on his apology

In response to workers’ efforts and increased media scrutiny, Chapek hosted a town hall on March 21 to discuss the controversy. The event was part of a wider Disney initiative called Reimagining Tomorrow that’s designed to promote diversity and inclusion initiatives.

DeSantis considers revoking Disney permitting

In response to Disney’s decision to oppose HB 1557, DeSantis decried the company for its “woke” gesture. Now he’s looking to punish the company materially. 

Today, the governor announced his plan to expand a special session of the state legislature to consider ending special districts in Florida. Disney World is currently within the boundary of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special district whose designation lets Disney control its own emergency services, infrastructure, and construction permitting, as well as issue bonds and avoid extraneous approval when building new rides.

“They will be considering their congressional map,” said DeSantis in a press conference about the purpose of the session. “But they also will be considering termination of all special districts that were enacted in Florida prior to 1968. And that includes the Reedy Creek Improvement District.”

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