Disney suddenly thrust into culture wars after 'Don't Say Gay' bill signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis

Company removing gender-specific greetings at its parks
Posted at 4:34 PM, Apr 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-01 18:25:00-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — It has been a week of news headlines for the Walt Disney Company.

Whether the multinational entertainment and media conglomerate meant to or not, it's now at the center of cultural controversy and a political war with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Walt Disney World made headlines in its push to advance inclusion and diversity.

It is removing gender-specific greetings at its parks, and pushing to make 50% of its characters LGBTQ by the end of the year.

This comes after "The Most Magical Place On Earth" came under scrutiny recently when employees protested Disney's silence on Florida's parental rights bill — known as the "Don't Say Gay Bill."

Political analyst Brian Crowley
Brian Crowley wonders if the governor's attacks on Disney are the best political move.

"I don't think Disney wanted to get dragged into the culture wars," political analyst Brian Crowley said.

However, Crowley said the Walt Disney World Company listened to its employees and spoke up.

But denouncing Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill and vowing to support organizations working to repeal it was heard loud and clear by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

"It's interesting that despite winning, (DeSantis) now wants revenge and against the largest employer in the state," Crowley said.

Crowley is referring to the governor's suggestion that he will work to change a 55-year-old law that allows Disney World to govern itself in Orlando.

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks about Disney, March 31, 2022
Gov. Ron DeSantis holds a news conference in Palm Beach County on March 31, 2022.

Disney has its own jurisdiction and law enforcement but maybe not for long.

"I don't believe you quote retaliate, but I think what I would say is as a matter of first principle, I don't support special privileges in law just because a company is powerful, and they've been able to wield a lot of power," DeSantis said Thursday.

Disney has major power both domestically and globally.

Disneyland in California has an $8.5 billion economic impact and accounts for more than 75,000 jobs in Southern California.

Walt Disney World and related businesses generate even more in Florida — an estimated $18.2 billion a year — according to a 2011 impact study.

The company also donates millions to charity every year:

  • $294 million in 2021 went to charities
  • $150 million were directed to underrepresented communities
  • In the last 40 years, more than 145,000 magical wishes were granted globally through the Make-A-Wish Foundation

Palm Beach County could soon enjoy a piece of the pie.

"I think Brightline is one of the bigger pieces that links that puzzle," said Glenn Jergensen, the director of Palm Beach County's Tourism Development Council.

Glenn Jergensen, Director of Palm Beach County Tourism Development Council
Glenn Jergensen believes Brightline's extension to Orlando will benefit Palm Beach County.

Jergensen said Disney, which is already a huge driver of visitors to the state, is expected to have a larger impact on the Palm Beaches.

"With the extension of Brightline to Orlando, we'll certainly benefit over time from folks that will say, 'I'll go to Disney for a little while, spend a short vacation up there, and then I'll come down to the Palm Beaches,'" Jergensen said.

So, is this a political fight that Florida and DeSantis want to take on?

"There are a whole lot of issues going on in the state that makes the squabble with Disney seem irrelevant to the big issues that face people every day," Crowley said.