Following widespread outcry from employees, Disney CEO Bob Chapek apologized for the company's failure to speak out against Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill, which was sponsored by politicians to whom the corporation reportedly donated money.
In a memo to Disney staff on Friday, Chapek extended the apology to LGBTQ employees in particular, vowing that the company would take action in opposing similar legislation going forward and that it would pause all political donations in Florida.
"Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was," Chapek wrote. "It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights."
"You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down," he added. "I am sorry."
On Tuesday, the Florida Senate narrowly passed the anti-LGBTQ bill, which forbids schools from educating students in kindergarten through third grade about sexual orientation and gender identity or teaching "in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards." A provision that was previously in the bill but was later withdrawn would have mandated that teachers in the state report students' sexual orientations to their parents.
According to government accountability news site Popular Information, Disney donated almost $200,000 in two years to Florida lawmakers who advocated for the anti-LGBTQ bill.
Many Disney employees, including theme park characters and TV writers, spoke out and urged the company to oppose the legislation.
“If this bill was in place when I was growing up, I probably would not be here,” Franky Jr., a trans former cast member at Walt Disney World, previously told BuzzFeed News.
Even Walt Disney's grandniece, Abigail Disney, who has previously criticized the company, accused Chapek of being "more worried about right-wing backlash than about his own loyal fans and employees."
"The times for neutrality are long since over," Abigail Disney tweeted on Tuesday. "That train has left the goddam station. What is Disney for? Is it for pretending what America is about, or it is for defining a vision for a world in which fantasy, love, kindness, decency and loyalty are bedrock values."
At a shareholders meeting on Wednesday, according to CNN, Chapek said he had called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to express his "disappointment and concern" in the legislation and added that the company would donate $5 million to LGBTQ rights organizations.
In his message to staff on Friday, Chapek acknowledged the employees who advocated for Disney to take a stand, saying they "see the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good."
He added, "Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all."
Chapek vowed that Disney would take a more active stand in the fight for LGBTQ rights and increase its "support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states."
Additionally, the company will stop its contributions to Florida politicians pending a review to overhaul its policies on political donations to "ensure our advocacy better reflects our values."
"I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community," Chapek said. "I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve."