don’t say gay

Disney LGBTQ employees slam company for cutting same-sex affection on screen

Disney featured a same-sex couple in the short, Out, in 2020
Disney featured a same-sex couple in the short, Out, in 2020 (Photo: Pixar)

Disney has found itself getting into a deeper and deeper mess over Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill. First, it was revealed Disney had donated money to the Republican sponsors of the bill.

Then it was criticized for refusing to explicitly speak out against the legislation, which was passed by the Senate on Tuesday.

Over the last few days, Disney’s been trying to defend itself against the growing criticism. The company’s main line of defense, as reiterated by Walt Disney Co Chief Executive Bob Chapek, was that rather than making explicitly political statements, the company did good by promoting diversity and inclusion on screen.

However, that’s not how some of its LGBTQ employees see it. A group of them have written a letter to bosses, reproduced by Variety, blasting Disney for not doing more. They also complain about a lack of same-sex affection in Pixar movies. The letter first came to light on Twitter, via journalist Judd Legum.

The employees began by saying, “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.”

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It goes on to point out what it sees as hypocrisy in Disney refusing to make political statements. They point out Disney quickly pulled its theatrical releases in Russia following the invasion of Ukraine.

Disney previously also took a public stand and threatened to pull production when the state of Georgia debated passing a controversial Religious Liberty bill: “It has been proven that Disney’s corporate statements can and do make a difference.”

When it comes to on-screen representation, they say corporate executives frequently demand cuts to material: “Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection… regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar.”

“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,” the letters states.

“Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”

Pixar has included some openly LGBTQ characters in movies, but not many. There was a short animation, Out, about a gay man coming out to his parents on Disney+ in 2020. Lena Waithe also voiced a cyclops police character in Onward who mentions having a girlfriend.

Related: Pixar releases adorable, gay-themed short movie ahead of Pride month

Last week, Disney issued a statement acknowledging it gave money to both Democrat and Republican lawmakers, but said none was linked to this particular legislation. Instead, “The biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create here and the diverse community organizations we support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community.”

This was followed up by a company-wide memo from CEO Chapek on Monday defending Disney’s lack of comment on HB 1557 (officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill).

“As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds,” Chapek wrote. “Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change.”

News of this latest letter from LGBTQ employees follows a comment from Dana Terrace, creator of the animated Disney show Owl House.

Responding to Chapek’s memo, Terrace posted a tweet saying, “I’m fucking tired of making Disney look good”.

Terrace accompanied it with a video saying, ““We got a company-wide email this morning basically telling us, in summary, Disney as a company is not going to change doing any of this. We’re not going to not give money to these people. But here are a bunch of flowery and compassionate words to shut you up.”

Yesterday, Chapek spoke at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting. For the first time, he said Disney “opposed to the bill from the onset,” but chose to work behind the scenes with lawmakers to try and influence the outcome.

“I understand our original approach, no matter how well-intended, didn’t quite get the job done.”

He went on to say the company was pledging $5 million to the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ rights organizations. He also said he will meet with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss Disney’s “concerns” about the legislation, after first connecting earlier on the phone.

Related: DeSantis press secretary tweets vile take on ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and the Internet just can’t with her

DeSantis’s spokesperson, Christina Pushaw, responded on Twitter, saying Chapek had called the Governor, but that yesterday was “the first time we have heard from Disney” about HB 1557.

“The governor did take the call from Mr. Chapek. The governor’s position has not changed,” Pushaw continued. “No in-person meeting has been scheduled yet.

“Disney is a family-friendly company that creates wholesome entertainment for kids,” she continued. “The same Florida parents who take their families to Disney also support also support parental rights in education, because they do not want their young children exposed to inappropriate content about sex and gender theory at school.”

DeSantis is expected to sign HB 1557 into law imminently. HRC has issued a statement saying it will refuse Disney’s offer of a $5million donation until “meaningful action is taken to combat” HB 1557.

Disney did not respond to a request for comment from Variety about the letter from LGBTQ Pixar employees.