After Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek was personally called out March 9 during the annual shareholders meeting over the corporation’s inaction regarding — and financial support of — Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Pixar and Disney employees are speaking out.
In a statement attributed to “the LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies,” Pixar team members alleged that Disney executives have demanded to cut “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection…regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar.”
The Pixar letter is a direct response to Chapek’s March 4 memo, which promised that the “biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce.” Disney employees previously criticized the company’s inaction regarding the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, saying that “silence is unacceptable” and is a devastating corporate stance.
The “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibits “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida primary schools. It was previously reported that Disney has given money to every single sponsor and co-sponsor of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Now it’s come to light, per Variety, that Disney’s LGBTQIA+ Business Employee Resource Groups requested in a February 28 letter to Chapek and other Disney leaders that the company “issue a public statement condemning anti-LGBTQIA+ policies in the U.S.,” including the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s directive that gender-affirming care should be investigated as “child abuse.”
“Legislation of this manner specifically targets the most vulnerable members of our community, and data proves that a lack of support leads to an increase of suicide rates within LGBTQIA+ youth, a group that is already three times as likely to attempt suicide than non-LGBTQIA+ youth,” the letter read. “We ask that you stand by our community as you have in the past, such as the actions taken in response to the tragedy of Pulse Nightclub or the boycott of Georgia’s proposed “Free Exercise Protection Act” bill in 2016.”
During the March 9 Disney shareholders meeting, CEO Chapek pledged $5 million for LGBTQ+ advocacy, including a donation to the Human Rights Campaign. Now, the HRC has officially rejected that donation until “meaningful action” is taken.
“The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill, don’t become dangerous laws,” Joni Madison, interim president of the HRC, said in a statement. “While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida — including hardworking families employed by Disney — today they took a step in the right direction. But it was merely the first step.”
A Disney spokesperson responded to the HRC, saying (via Variety), “While we are surprised and disappointed that they will not take our financial support at this time, we remain committed to meaningful action to combat legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community.”
The Pixar letter similarly called out the “hollow” Band-Aid of pointing to content creation. “Beyond the ‘inspiring content’ that we aren’t even allowed to create, we require action,” Pixar employees said. The letter also alleged that Disney has shut down any attempts at same-sex relationships in Pixar films, writing, “We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”
Per Variety, Pixar has featured a few LGBTQ+ characters in feature films, including 2020’s “Out” — about a gay man’s struggle to come out to his parents — and “Onward,” which included cyclops police officer Specter, voiced by Lena Waithe. The character’s sexuality is hinted at when Specter says, “It’s not easy being a new parent. My girlfriend’s daughter got me pulling my hair out, OK?” The film was banned in Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia because of the scene, and the Russian release changed the word “girlfriend” to “partner.”
Read the full Pixar letter below:
A Statement to Leadership from the LGBTQIA+ Employees of Pixar & Their Allies
We are writing because we are disappointed, hurt, afraid, and angry. In regards to Disney’s financial involvement with legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, we hoped that our company would show up for us. But it didn’t.
Monday’s email, “Our Unwavering Commitment to the LGBTQ+ Community”, rang hollow. It began with the claim that Disney has a long history of supporting the LGBT community, but Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone. Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the parks, even removing same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s. Additionally, Disney began capitalizing on Pride in 2018 with The Rainbow Mickey Collection, (while de-emphasizing the terms like LGBTQ+ and not even featuring explicitly LGBTQIA+ pieces such as Pride flag pins until 2021). To this end, it feels terrible to be a part of a company that makes money from Pride merch when it chooses to “step back” in times of our greatest need, when our rights are at risk.
The second claim stated that “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds”. However, the very email making this claim opened with a corporate statement regarding the ongoing situation in Ukraine. Eight days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Disney paused the release of theatrical films in Russia and announced “We will make future business decisions based on the evolving situation.” Following the siege on the capital in 2021, Disney stopped all political donations to members of Congress who had objected to the presidential election results. In 2016, Disney told the state of Georgia: “We will plan to take our business elsewhere should any legislation allowing discriminatory practices be signed into state law” in response to the controversial Religious Liberty bill. By taking a stand, Disney directly affected the legislative outcome in Georgia. It has been proven that Disney’s corporate statements can and do make a difference.
Finally, we come to the push for Content as the answer. We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were. Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney’s behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar. Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it. Beyond the “inspiring content” that we aren’t even allowed to create, we require action.
We are calling on Disney leadership to immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, to fully denounce this legislation publicly, and to make amends for their financial involvement. While signing on to donate to the HRC is a step in the correct direction, the shareholder meeting on Wednesday made it clear that this is not enough. Throughout the shareholder meeting, Disney did not take a hard stance in support of the LGBTQIA+ community, they instead attempted to placate “both sides” – and did not condemn hateful messages shared during the question and answer portion of the meeting. This is not what it means to “unequivocally stand in support of our LGBTQ+ employees, their families, and their communities.”
Disney taking a stand by honoring their company values has changed the course of legislation in the past. If Disney is true in its values, it will take a decisive public stand against the discriminatory legislation occurring in Florida and offer tangible support for the LGBTQIA+ communities affected by bigoted legislation sweeping the country. Stand against this bill in Florida and against the similar bills in South Carolina, Arizona, Virginia, and Tennessee. Stand against the transphobic legislation in Texas, Iowa, Utah, Kansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Alabama. Many hateful groups are attempting to eradicate us through legislation – we need you to stand with us entirely, not in empty words.
This matter is not something that can wait until Reimagine Tomorrow in April, or Pride Month in June. This matter needs to be addressed now. This is urgent. 42 percent of LGBTQIA+ youth seriously considered suicide in 2021, including more than half of transgender and nonbinary youth, with a large factor being the lack of support that these discriminatory legislations enable. Disney claims to care for the welfare of children, but supporting politicians like this directly hurts one of their most vulnerable audiences. There are lives at stake and Disney’s support could save those lives. “We still have more work to do,” your email said. This is that work.
Signed with Pride,
The LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies
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