DeSantis’ spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, confirmed that the two men spoke Wednesday but said the governor is not changing his support for the bill, which prohibits educators from leading instruction on sexual orientation or gender issues with students in kindergarten through third grade. DeSantis has not yet signed the legislation.
“The governor’s position has not changed,” Pushaw wrote in a statement to POLITICO.
LGBTQ advocates and Democrats have railed against the bill for weeks in the lead up to the GOP-led Florida Senate’s Tuesday final vote approving the measure, saying it’s a broad attack on the LGBTQ community that will marginalize students and could lead to children being bullied or even committing suicide.
Florida GOP leaders argue the bill will strengthen parental rights in the state and will prevent teachers from keeping vital information about students from parents, especially around gender issues. There are two pending lawsuits in Florida courts filed by parents who accuse educators of secretly meeting with their children over gender identity decisions.
The most contentious piece of the measure, which was dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, states that classroom instruction surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity is banned outright for young children and prohibited in other grades unless the lessons are “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
Aside from Disney, opposition to the legislation continues to mount locally and throughout the country.
The superintendent of Miami-Dade County, Florida’s largest school district, said Wednesday that the bill “will not deter” the district from “ensuring that we support and value the individuality of students while at the same time respecting the rights of parents and families.”
“Our schools have always been and will continue to be safe spaces for children and employees to be who they are,” Superintendent Jose Dotres wrote on Twitter.
The Biden administration also continues to denounce the legislation, which White House press secretary Jen Psaki said was “discriminatory” and “a form of bullying.” The administration and DeSantis have frequently clashed over the governor’s hands-off approach to Covid-19, including over DeSantis’ order
Opponents, including Florida Democrats who voted against the measure, frequently criticized companies like Disney for donating to lawmakers who backed the bill and not publicly condemning the proposal. Chapek had faced growing pressure from some employees to denounce the proposal, including from Abigail Disney, granddaughter of one the company’s founders.
“I am deeply angered by Disney thinking it can look the other way for this hateful “Don’t Say Gay” bill and it takes a seriously flawed moral compass to not see that funding the people who wrote and passed it is anything less than supporting their ugly agenda,” she posted on Twitter.
To that end, Chapek made the first public statements by Disney decrying the legislation on Wednesday, expressing to shareholders fears that it could be “used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families.”
Chapek said that Disney, which employs more than 70,000 people in Florida and has a flagship amusement park in Orlando, was “opposed to the bill from the outset” but decided against taking a public stance to instead work “behind-the-scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers.” Chapek also said that Disney will sign a Human Rights Campaign’s statement opposing similar legislative efforts around the U.S. and pledged $5 million to organizations that advocate for LGBTQ rights.
“I understand our original approach — no matter how well intended — didn’t quite get the job done,” Chapek told shareholders.
The DeSantis administration said that Chapek’s call on Wednesday is the first time they have heard from Disney regarding the bill. And although Chapek told shareholders Disney leaders will meet with DeSantis, it likely won’t affect the governor’s decision to sign the legislation into law.
“Anyone who has questions or concerns about the Parental Rights in Education bill is encouraged to read the bill, rather than the distorted coverage in mainstream media, which regurgitates false partisan talking points,” Pushaw wrote.
Still, the meeting between DeSantis and Chapek was hailed by LGBTQ supporters.
“This is a clearly a step in the right direction, and we commend Mr. Chapek for finally speaking out against “Don’t Say Gay” directly to and with Governor DeSantis,” said Mike Kahane, southern bureau chief for the advocacy organization AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “That said, it took a huge amount of public pressure to get Disney to act. We will be watching and urge Governor DeSantis to NOT sign this hateful and discriminatory legislation.”