March 9 (Reuters) – Walt Disney Co DIS.N Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek voiced disappointment on Wednesday with a Florida bill limiting LGBTQ discussion in schools, saying he called Governor Ron DeSantis to express concern about the legislation becoming law.
Disney has been under pressure to take a public stand against the legislation that critics say will harm the lesbian, gay, transgender and queer community. The company employs more than 65,000 people at the sprawling Walt Disney World resort in Orlando.
Chapek said Disney was “opposed to the bill from the onset,” but chose to work behind the scenes, relying on its longstanding relationships with lawmakers, to influence the outcome.
“I understand our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn’t quite get the job done,” Chapek said during Disney’s annual shareholder meeting.
A spokesperson for DeSantis, however, said a call from Chapek on Wednesday was “the first time we have heard from Disney” regarding the legislation.
“The governor did take the call from Mr. Chapek. The governor’s position has not changed,” the spokesperson said through a statement on Twitter.
While this may be the first time Chapek and DeSantis spoke about the legislation, Disney’s representatives have been in frequent contact with the Governor’s office, as well as with other Florida lawmakers, for the past six weeks, attempting to influence the legislation, according to a company spokesman.
The Florida legislation, referred to by its opponents as the “don’t say gay” bill, has stirred national controversy amid an increasingly partisan debate over what schools should teach children about race and gender. DeSantis, who is seeking re-election this year, has indicated his support for what is formally called the Parental Rights in Education bill.
“The same Florida parents who take their families to Disney also support parental rights in education, because they do not want their children exposed to inappropriate content about sex and gender theory at school,” the DeSantis spokesperson said.
One Disney shareholder from California read a statement from his daughter, who had been accepted into the Disney College Program in Florida, and was “heartbroken” that Disney failed to take a public position on Florida’s legislation.
“You can’t stand on the sidelines when it comes to human rights,” she wrote.
The Disney CEO said he had an “extraordinary conversation” with DeSantis, who assured Chapek that the law would not be “weaponized in any way” or used to harm or target gay, lesbian, non-binary or transgender kids or their families. Chapek said the governor agreed to meet with him and LGBTQ+ Disney employees to discuss concerns.
Chapek said Disney has joined some 170 companies in signing a statement from the Human Rights Commission’s opposing anti-LGBTQ state legislation. The company also pledged $5 million toward organizations, including the HRC, that are working to protect LGBTQ rights.
In other matters, Disney shareholders elected all 11 board members, ratified the appointment of PricewaterhouseCoopers as Disney’s independent public accountant and supported the compensation for the company’s top executives. Investors rejected all shareholder proposals except one, which calls for the company to report on both median and adjusted pay gaps across race and gender.
“We appreciate our shareholders’ view on this important issue, and the board accepts the results of today’s vote,” the company said in a statement, adding it is committed to pay equity.
(Reporting by Dawn ChmielewskiEditing by Nick Zieminski, Jonathan Oatis and Bernard Orr)