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Florida Republicans clap back at Disney for its opposition to anti-LGBTQ law

Republican leaders have been at odds with Disney over the company's response to a new Florida law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
Saturnino Perez Garrido/satur73
Republican leaders have been at odds with Disney over the company's response to a new Florida law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

Florida lawmakers have cleared the way to punish the Walt Disney Corporation for its opposition to a new state law that limits school instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. The proposals strip Disney of its ability to collect taxes and issue bonds, and eliminate a social media carveout for theme parks.

Lawmakers were set to meet this week to consider revised congressional maps drawn by Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office that halve the Black representation in the state. But as the special session kicked off on Tuesday, DeSantis amended the agenda barely an hour before lawmakers were set to gather in Tallahassee to include the Disney bills.

One of the measures would dissolve Disney’s special improvement district status. That's a 1967 provision that allows the company to collect taxes and issue bonds. The other bill eliminates a social media carveout for theme parks following a 2021 law aimed at punishing certain platforms that ban political candidates.

Disney faced mounting pressure to speak out against the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” proposal as it made its way through the legislature earlier this year. The company’s silence drew the ire of employees, LGBTQ organizations and others who viewed the company’s lack of a response as being complicit. When Disney did criticize the law and called for its repeal, it drew the ire of DeSantis.

“For Disney to come out and put a statement and say that the bill should have never passed, and that they are going to actively work to repeal it, I think, one, was fundamentally dishonest,” he said in March. “But two, I think that crossed the line. This state is governed by the interests of the people of the state of Florida. It is not based on the demands of California corporate executives.”

The law bans lessons on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-through-3. In other grades all discussions must be conducted in an age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate. These terms are not defined. School districts are also required to notify parents if their children want to use different names or pronouns at school and parents can sue schools for violations.

Equality Florida and other LGBTQ advocacy groups filed a lawsuit challenging the new law shortly after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it last month.

The Florida Senate voted Wednesday to approve both Disney bills, with Senate President Wilton Simpson stating the measures were not meant to penalize Disney.

“We’re not looking for retaliation, we’re looking and saying this is an organization amongst others that have many powers that we do not believe they should have in 2022,” he said.

But other Republicans like Rep. Jackie Toledo, were clear the measures were targeted at the company and meant as retribution.

“Shamefully, Disney betrayed us,” Toledo said. “And the corporation that Walt Disney started, which is a beacon of family values and that has now been perverted by a woke mob of liberal extremists into a laboratory of gender identity social experimentation in which our children are the guinea pigs.”

Democratic Rep. Fentrice Diskroll defended the company for taking a stance, despite Republican blowback.

“Disney did the right thing by speaking out in opposition to the horrible bill that is suppressing the stories of the LGBTQ community and their families,” she said.

The governor has until May 6th to sign them.

Sarah Mueller is a journalist who has worked for media outlets in several states since 2010. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010 and worked as a print reporter covering local government and politics.