Disney Fans Caught in the Wake of Woke Corporate Capitulation to LGBTQ Pressure

The Walt Disney Company goes to war over a Florida state law banning classroom instruction on homosexual and transgender issues for K-3 students, raising questions about its respect for parental rights and democratic pluralism.

Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting March 22 outside of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Employees staged a company-wide walkout to protest the Walt Disney Company’s response to legislation passed in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign while protesting March 22 outside of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Employees staged a company-wide walkout to protest the Walt Disney Company’s response to legislation passed in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. (photo: Octavio Jones / Getty Images)

Last week, the Magic Kingdom lost some of its luster for U.S. parents who have made Disney movies and theme parks a staple of their precious family time.

After LGBTQ advocates within Disney attacked the company for failing to block a Florida law that banned classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3, the corporation vowed to overturn the law, while announcing plans to boost the number of LGBTQ characters in future productions.

“Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that,” read a statement issued by Disney, as it faced blowback from activist employees for failing to block the law.

Meanwhile, a number of videos appeared to confirm that the aggressive promotion of LGBTQ themes in Disney shows geared to children was already underway.

In one widely-circulated leaked video obtained by journalist Christopher Rufo, Latoya Raveneau, a Disney executive producer, acknowledged that she had advanced a “not-at-all-secret gay agenda” for children’s animation.

“In my little pocket of Proud Family Disney TVA [television animation], the showrunners were super welcoming … to my not-at-all-secret gay agenda,” Raveneau reported during a staff meeting that addressed the law. She noted that Disney may have previously taken a different line on such issues, but that has changed. Today, she no longer feels “that sense of ‘I don’t have to be afraid to have these two characters kiss in the background.’”

“I was just, wherever I could, adding queerness,” she continued. “No one would stop me, and no one was trying to stop me.”

Raveneau’s disclosure came as a second video featuring Karey Burke, Disney’s president of general entertainment content, reinforced the message that Disney was now committed to an activist agenda.

Burke confirmed that she had a child who identified as transgender, and another who was “pansexual.” She pledged that 50% of the  characters in future productions would represent sexual minorities, as well as various ethnic and racial groups. 

“I hope this is a moment where … we just don’t allow each other to go backward,” she said.

Former Disney CEO Bob Iger also weighed in. He insisted that the company’s opposition to the bill was a matter of “right and wrong,” not politics. Under the law’s provisions, children who identified as LGBTQ might not receive the support they needed, he said during a CNN interview. Iger didn’t address Disney’s well-established practice of editing out LGBTQ-related content from films that are screened in China, which censors such material.

The legislation in question, Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law by LGBTQ activists. 

That description is not accurate. The law allows for “age-appropriate” classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation for older elementary-school students. And it gives parents the right to access their children’s records for school-based mental-health services, amid reports of staff providing “affirmative” support for students struggling with gender dysphoria without informing their parents or obtaining their consent. 

Recent polls suggest that a growing number of Americans (at least a “slim majority,” according to most polls) agree with the law’s provisions, once they understand them.

Thus far, however, Disney has not backed down from its attempts to characterize the law as an unjust attack on LGBTQ Americans and to smear its sponsors and supporters as mean-spirited. And the company appears oblivious to the fact that parental-rights activists have launched a nationwide campaign to protect their children from harmful content, in and out of the classroom. 

The Florida law, passed by duly-elected state lawmakers, reflected these parental concerns without going overboard. So why is Disney, a trusted purveyor of children’s entertainment, taking sides against parents, damaging its brand in the process?

In an April 4 opinion column for the Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker charged:

By joining in the campaign to distort the objective of Florida’s new law, defame the people behind it, and deprive parents of the right to determine whether their children as young as 5 should be taught about sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom, Disney … [corporate leaders] risk placing themselves on the side of a small minority of unrepresentative ideologues who are trying to remake the relationship between children, their parents and their teachers.
The larger problem Disney’s dutiful obeisance to the noisy extremists represents is the way in which those who seek to control our culture are redefining a central element of democratic pluralism — what it means to be an open and tolerant society.

Back in 2018, Ross Douthat labeled this kind of progressive-oriented corporate lobbying “woke capitalism.”

In the past, U.S. companies had pressed for policies that benefited their bottom line. Now they were inserting themselves in the nation’s take-no-prisoners’ culture wars, and punishing states that passed laws protecting business owners who refused to endorse same-sex unions on religious grounds. 

The leftward pivot of some corporations ambushed GOP lawmakers who had long joined forces with Big Business to limit government regulation and taxes. But the ramped-up activism, according to Douthat, reflected an effort by U.S. corporations to maintain their influence on American society.

Corporations engaged in a “certain kind of virtue-signaling on progressive social causes, a certain degree of performative wokeness,” wrote Douthat, in hopes of blunting “efforts to tax or regulate our new monopolies too heavily.”

Today no one is surprised to read that Citigroup reacted to a Texas law restricting elective abortions by announcing a new corporate benefit that would cover employees’ travel expenses for obtaining abortions out of state.

The difference between Citigroup and Disney, however, is that American families invite Disney into their homes in an act of trust that now feels violated. With its support for the totalizing tactics of sexual-rights activists Disney has become an adversary, rather than an ally of parents struggling to stabilize their children after the debilitating pandemic lockdown.

Mainstream media outlets, which used to challenge corporate interference in politics and now operate as an accelerant for woke capitalism, also bear some responsibility for Disney’s predicament. 

In the case of the Florida law, news headlines generally reinforced the inaccurate partisan description of the bill, repeating the label favored by LGBTQ activists, “Don’t Say Gay.”

This coverage framed the law in a hostile manner that ignored parental concerns and highlighted the objections of activists and teachers. 

“Teachers fear the chilling effect of Florida's so-called ‘Don't Say Gay’ law,” read one headline for a March 30 National Public Radio story, which noted that the law allows parents to sue if the school violates specific provisions of the bill.

The NPR story questioned the need for the Florida law, citing a first-grade teacher who said she did not address topics banned by the law.

But if that is indeed the case, The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board dryly observed, “Why is everybody so riled up?”

Thus far, Florida’s Republican leaders have stood their ground. 

Governor Ron DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, has called the law “the Anti-Grooming Bill,” a reference to parental concerns about the influence of pro-LGBTQ curricula on students’ values and behavior.

In February, Gallup reported that the percentage of U.S. adults who self-identify as LGBTQ had doubled since 2012, when Gallup first began to track public opinion on this issue. While more than 7% of Americans now identify as LGBTQ, 20% of Generation Z — Americans born between 1997 and 2003 — identifies as LGBTQ, and more are likely to do so as they advance in age. Classroom discussions that encourage students to explore their sexual orientation and sexual identity have helped fuel this transformation, but experts note that social media has also played a major role.

Governor DeSantis, for his part, has defended the law, emphasizing that it does not stigmatize anyone. He has pushed back hard against Disney, signaling his intention to review the corporation’s special legal status in the state, where it has long played a dominant role in the corridors of power.

“In 1967, Florida lawmakers authorized the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, granting the Walt Disney Co. extraordinary powers of self-government, such as the ability to levy taxes and provide emergency services on land in central Florida that is home to the company’s sprawling theme park resort,” the Los Angeles Times reported last week.

“You should not have one organization that is able to dictate policy in all these different realms, and they have done that for many, many years,” said DeSantis at a press conference last week. “If that stops now, which it should, that would be a good thing for Florida.”

No doubt, Disney’s corporate leaders were well aware of the danger that woke activism posed to its brand, particularly in a state like Florida. The corporation did not deploy its army of lobbyists to block the Florida law, as the Washington Post confirmed last week.

“Now the company faces protests from its own employees, criticism from LGBTQ activists and combative statements from DeSantis, who dismissed concerns from what he called a ‘woke’ Disney,” the Post reported.

Disney might have shrugged off the broadsides from LGBTQ advocates in its ranks and stayed mum. 

Instead the activists and their allies in the media will be scrutinizing the next Disney productions to see if they really do feature more trans and gay characters, a process that is unlikely to satisfy anyone, even the progressive bean counters policing the executive suite.

For now, the Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker is advising Disney to confirm its woke credentials by revisiting its “enormous back-catalog of works” and removing shows that promote “gender rigidity,” like Lady and the Tramp, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Lion King.

Of course, Baker doesn’t really expect Disney to comply with his suggestion — it would lose a great deal of money if it dismantled its back catalog and shareholders would likely rebel.

And that fact underscores the hypocrisy of Disney’s response to the Florida law: Its executives will placate activist employees, whatever the cost to Florida students, but they will also defend the company’s bottom line.

Let’s see how long they can get away with that balancing act before the “woke police” come for Mickey and Minnie.