The Walt Disney Co. may have placated the left by vowing to fight Gov. Ron DeSantis’ newly signed parental bill of rights, but it turns out the Florida Republican knows how to return a punch.
Disney found itself with a public relations debacle on its hands Wednesday as Mr. DeSantis took a sledgehammer to the House of Mouse, using the spotlight to skewer its record on China and framing the skirmish as a battle between Florida and California values.
“For them to say that [they], as a California-based company, are going to work to take those California values and overturn a law that was duly enacted and, as you said, supported by a strong majority of Floridians, they don’t run this state,” the governor said during an appearance Tuesday on Fox’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“They will never run this state as long as I’m governor,” he added.
Providing a timely assist was Manhattan Institute senior fellow Christopher Rufo, who released video clips from a virtual meeting of Disney executives touting the company’s decision to eliminate “gendered greetings” and advance LGBTQ narratives in its entertainment programming.
Those in the video included Vivian Ware, Disney diversity and inclusion manager, who said the company last year eliminated its “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” voiceover ahead of its Magic Kingdom fireworks show and replaced it with “dreamers of all ages.”
“We don’t want to just assume that because someone might be, in our interpretation, may be presenting as female that they may not want to be called princess,” Ms. Ware said. “So let’s think differently about how do we really engage with our guests in a meaningful and inclusive way that makes it magical and memorable for everyone.”
Conservatives quickly pointed out the irony of Disney squelching terms such as “boys and girls” while tarring the Florida legislation as the “don’t say gay” bill.
“It’s amazing that Disney executives were falsely accusing Ron DeSantis of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ while they were requiring theme park employees to eliminate the words ‘ladies,’ ‘gentlemen,’ ‘boys,’ and ‘girls,’” Mr. Rufo tweeted.
Disney had no comment Wednesday on the DeSantis criticism or the video clips, which helped fuel Wednesday’s conservative backlash over the company’s opposition to House Bill 1557.
“I think this is an American realization that Disney is not the Disney of our childhood,” former Rep. Sean Duffy, Wisconsin Republican, said on Fox’s “The Faulkner Focus.” “They’ve gone very progressive, very woke, and the fact that they want to sexualize our children and our children’s childhoods for their own political agenda is incredibly disturbing.”
Democratic strategist Brad Woodhouse blamed the uproar on the Republican “outrage machine.” He said it was calculated to stoke the base in an election year.
Mr. DeSantis is leading in the polls on his November reelection bid. The first-term governor is also seen as a top prospect for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
“First of all, the outrage here is not about Disney, and this whole issue is not about Disney,” Mr. Woodhouse said. “God bless the outrage machine. Nobody does it better. This is about Ron DeSantis and a Republican legislature that is dividing people and demeaning people simply for the purpose of dividing and demeaning people. It’s a political strategy.”
The bill bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 and “instruction that is not age appropriate for students,” the governor’s office said.
The measure also requires “school districts to adopt procedures for notifying parents if there is a change in services from the school regarding a child’s mental, emotional or physical health or well-being,” including changes adopted at school to the child’s name or gender identity.
“This [bill] is so uncontroversial, polling has shown even a majority of Florida Democrat voters support it,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project. “However, woke leftists at Disney and elsewhere are so invested in their project to initiate young children into their sexual ideology that they cannot help but oppose this legislation.”
Whether the brouhaha ultimately will benefit Mr. DeSantis or Disney is subject to debate.
Mr. Schilling said that “DeSantis and Florida Republicans were incredibly smart to pick this battle, and as we are soon likely to see, it will not end well for Disney’s woke leaders and their Democrat proxies.”
The anti-Trump Lincoln Project disagreed. It tweeted that “Ron DeSantis is not only attacking LGBTQ+ communities and their families, he also thinks it’s a good idea to attack Florida’s biggest tourist attraction and the hard-working Floridians that work there.”
Doesn’t say ‘gay’
Shortly after Mr. DeSantis signed the bill Monday, Disney released a statement saying the legislation “should never have been passed and should never have been signed into law.”
“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” Disney said. “We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
Mr. DeSantis accused Disney of showing no interest in the bill while it moved through the Legislature, but reacting only under pressure from “the woke mob.”
Disney CEO Bob Chapek this month sent a memo to employees apologizing for not speaking out against the bill and promising to donate to LGBTQ groups, including the Human Rights Campaign. He also said he would “pause” political donations in Florida.
“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” Mr. Chapek said in the memo reprinted March 11 in The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
That wasn’t enough for some Disney employees, who staged a March 22 walkout against the bill in Burbank, California, and demanded in an open letter that the company cease donations to the bill’s legislative supporters.
“The recent statements by The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) leadership regarding the Florida legislature’s recent ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation,” the letter said.
Mr. DeSantis has pointed out that the word “gay” does not appear in the bill.
“So they say it’s banning a word that literally isn’t even in the legislation,” he said. “It’s not even like they’re misrepresenting the way the word is used. It’s not even used in the bill. It’s a fake narrative. It’s a lie.”
Those weighing in on the fracas include prominent gay conservatives such as former Trump administration official Ric Grenell, columnist Tammy Bruce and Fox News pundit and radio host Guy Benson.
Mr. Grenell tweeted that Disney “never helped in any way” on the Trump administration’s campaign to decriminalize homosexuality in countries where the practice is still illegal. Ms. Bruce blasted “the narcissism of projecting our adult issues onto kids.”
Mr. Benson tweeted: “1) Is Disney opposed to the part that bars sexual/gender identity instruction for K-3 students? Or another part of the bill? 2) Has Disney put out a statement this forceful on the genocide in China, where they eagerly do business? Trying to pinpoint their ‘corporate values.’”
Mr. DeSantis also rebooted the criticism over Disney’s 2020 live-action movie “Mulan,” parts of which were filmed in Xinjiang, where more than 1 million members of the mostly Muslim Uyghur minority are thought to have been held in internment camps.
“People asked me kind of about their posture on the bill, and I said, you know what? If we would have put in the bill that you were not allowed to have curriculum that discussed the oppression of the Uyghurs in China, Disney would have endorsed that in a second,” Mr. DeSantis said at a Tuesday press conference.
Disney Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said in September 2020 that the film was shot mostly in New Zealand and that it was common practice in the film industry to credit the nations where the movie was shot, according to Deadline.
As far as Mr. DeSantis is concerned, however, Disney should be more concerned with its own human rights record.
“They’re fine lining their pockets from the [Chinese Communist Party] and all the atrocities that go on there,” he said. “But it’s those kindergartners in Florida that they really want to have transgenderism as part of their core curriculum in school.”
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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