How LGBTQ Disney walkout could impact Disneyland

Controversial Florida legislation roiling the Mouse House could have ripple effects at Disneyland as LGBTQ employees prepare to walk off the job in protest of Disney’s response to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Disney employees taking part in the walkout on Tuesday, March 22 are encouraged not to work while on the job or call in sick and stay home for the day, according to the Disney Do Better Walkout website.

The weeklong protest began on Monday, March 14 with a series of daily 15-minute at-work walkouts culminating in a full-day walkout planned for Tuesday.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek has been caught in the middle of a media firestorm for his handling of the company’s response to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill that would prohibit classroom discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The Florida Senate has passed the “Parental Rights in Education” measure and Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has signaled he will sign the bill.

The walkouts are an opportunity for Disney’s LGBTQ employees to take a stand against the company’s “apathy” in response to the Florida legislation, according to the Disney Do Better Walkout website.

The LGBTQ Disney Walkout is unlikely to result in employee protests in the “on stage” areas of the parks, but the associated work stoppages and sick-outs could result in longer than usual lines for attractions and food stands at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. In extreme instances, some rides and restaurants could be closed for the day due to the walkout.

It may be hard for Disneyland visitors to distinguish LGBTQ protest impacts from the coronavirus-related employee shortages already affecting the parks.

Walkouts were staged on Thursday, March 17 at Walt Disney Animation Studio and Friday, March 18 at Pixar. ESPN broadcasters Elle DuncanCarolyn Peck and Courtney Lyle held on-air moments of silence in solidarity with LGBTQ colleagues during the NCAA women’s basketball playoff tournament.

Disney hosted a town hall meeting with employees on Monday, March 21 to discuss the company’s response to the Florida bill and attempt to quash the uproar, according to Bloomberg. The forum was part of an upcoming “Reimagine Tomorrow” campaign reinforcing the company’s commitment to diversity and inclusion that Disney planned to launch during a planned summit in April.

The group organizing the walkouts appears to be unaffiliated with any external unions representing Disney employees or internal employee groups representing LGBTQ cast members, Disney parlance for employees.

A Florida union representing thousands of Disney World workers warned against taking part in the company boycott, saying there were more effective ways to push for change and help LGBTQ Disney employees, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The Disney Pride Advisory Group did not organize the walkout and would “neither endorse nor condemn these actions,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Chapek issued a mea culpa in an email to the company’s LGBTQ community asking forgiveness for not standing up strongly enough against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill and pledging allegiance in the fight for equal rights.

“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” Chapek wrote in the email. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”

Chapek opted against denouncing the Florida legislation in favor of quietly working behind-the-scenes with DeSantis and state lawmakers — saying corporate statements do little to change minds and can be weaponized in counterproductive ways. DeSantis slammed Disney for promoting a “woke” ideology after Chapek finally denounced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Disney is reassessing political campaign donations in the wake of the company’s response to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, according to Chapek.

“Starting immediately, we are increasing our support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states,” Chapek wrote in the email. “We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values. And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review.”

Last year, Disney launched a campaign to introduce more diversity and inclusivity into its theme parks, workforce and company culture. At the same time, the company is in the process of moving its Disney Park, Experiences and Products division headquarters – including the Walt Disney Imagineering creative arm that designs theme parks – to the Orlando area to take advantage of “Florida’s business-friendly climate.”

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