Florida lawmakers revoked Disney’s special tax status in response to the “Don’t Say Gay” battle.
Disney’s newly reappointed CEO, Bob Iger, could face further backlash against LGBTQ content.
Iger needs to support LGBTQ rights or risk upsetting employees and millions of Americans.
With his return as CEO, Bob Iger faces tough decisions about how to boost Disney’s bottom line. But how he handles the next chapter in the “Don’t Say Gay” fight with Florida will have more far-reaching consequences.
Iger, whom Disney reinstalled as CEO this week — less than three years after he finished his previous 15-year run — faces a decision: Does he double down on LGBTQ rights? Or does he try to appease the Florida GOP to avoid further legal or political disputes?
Another fight could be bruising. Earlier this year, elected officials in Florida pushed back against Disney after then-CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the Republican-backed Parental Rights in Education law in the state, where Disney employs some 60,000 workers. Florida lawmakers voted to rescind the special tax status of Disney World in Orlando.
If Iger, who first served as Disney’s CEO from 2005 to 2020, does not decisively support LGBTQ rights, he risks looking as though he’s not in favor of a group that’s often marginalized and targeted. And Disney risks losing customers, workers, and brand loyalty. Indeed, the public wasn’t happy with Chapek’s response to the Florida law.
“This is not going away. This is just the reality now,” Martin Whittaker, the CEO of Just Capital, a research nonprofit and business consultancy, previously told Insider. “If you don’t create a narrative that is rooted in really what you stand for, then one will get created for you.”
Iger needs to understand that most Americans support LGBTQ rights
For Disney’s leadership, losing the company’s special tax status in the state carries financial repercussions. So could further battles with Florida lawmakers. But the cost of continuing to play both sides of a human-rights issue, while less immediately tangible, would be greater.
Beyond upsetting some of those who clamor for seats at Disney movies or at its theme parks, Iger risks alienating his employees.
Many of Disney’s creators are passionate about diversity. Just look at comments from some of Disney’s top creators who’ve worked on recent movies like “Strange World” or “Buzz LightYear,” both of which included LGBTQ characters.
“His gayness is one part of him. He’s also bold and wildly empathetic,” Don Hall, director of “Strange World,” told Variety, speaking about the film’s openly gay main character. “I think we can’t wait for the world to embrace him like we did.”
Actor Chris Evans, who voiced Buzz Lightyear, told Variety in a separate story that he was frustrated with the backlash to the film’s same-sex kiss.
“The goal is that we can get to a point where it is the norm, and that this doesn’t have to be some uncharted waters, that eventually this is just the way it is. That representation across the board is how we make films,” he said.
But Disney’s same-sex kiss between two women in “Buzz Lightyear” only made it to theaters after Pixar staffers sent Disney’s leadership a letter demanding the studio not censor “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” in its films, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
Disney didn’t immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.
Iger could face pressure to take a stance on these types of issues. The 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer, an online survey that asked more than 36,000 people about a variety of leaders, found that among workers in general, 60% expect their CEOs to speak publicly about social and political issues.
“There’s never been a more important time for business to lead, to step in to fill the void,” Edelman CEO Richard Edelman previously told Insider. “Business needs to make societal issues a core part of business strategy.”
Taking on those societal issues could make the job Iger faces as a returning leader even harder. There is a slice of American conservatives who are against LGBTQ rights. But should a CEO cave to a loud minority? For some Disney fans, the answer is “no.”
“Shout out to the buzz light year movie for representing for the lgbtq+ community,” one viewer from North Carolina tweeted. “It was beautiful and I like that my girls can see representation of healthy diverse relationships.”
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