Former Disney CEO Bob Chapek last year complained to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) of “pressure” to publicly oppose legislation seeking to restrict how sexual orientation and gender identity are talked about in public schools, according to the governor’s new memoir.
Chapek, who was ousted from the company in November, allegedly told DeSantis last year that he was being strong-armed into condemning the state’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill — known to its critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
“As the controversy over the Parental Rights in Education bill was coming to a head, Chapek called me. He did not want Disney to get involved, but he was getting a lot of pressure to weigh in against the bill,” DeSantis writes in his upcoming book, “The Courage to be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival,” according to Fox News, which obtained the memoir.
“We get pressured all the time,” Chapek reportedly told DeSantis. “But this time is different. I haven’t seen anything like this before.”
Pushback to the bill — whose sponsor, Florida Republican Rep. Joe Harding, resigned late last year after being indicted on charges of money laundering and wire fraud — began almost immediately following its introduction in January 2022.
President Biden and Education Secretary Miguel Cardona condemned the measure as “hateful,” and Chasten Buttigieg, the husband of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, accused DeSantis of “purposefully making your state a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in.”
Hundreds of Florida students staged walkouts to protest the bill as it moved through the legislature, calling the measure regressive and “homophobic and discriminatory.”
In March, Chapek wrote in a company-wide email that he had met with LGBTQ leaders at Disney in a meeting he described as “meaningful, illuminating, and at times deeply moving.” But the former Disney executive added that he would not publicly condemn the bill because corporate statements “do very little to change outcomes or minds” and are “often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”
Chapek backpedaled just days later during the company’s annual shareholder meeting, telling investors that he had called DeSantis to express concerns about the bill’s potential to “unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.” By that point, however, the measure had already advanced through the legislature and was on its way to the governor’s desk, where it was signed into law later that month.
DeSantis in his book says Chapek “ultimately caved to leftist media and activist pressure and pressed the false narrative against the bill.”
Later, in a March 28 statement, Disney said the legislation “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law” and vowed to support state and national organizations working to challenge the law in the courts.
“We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country,” a spokesperson for The Walt Disney Company said in the statement.
One month later, the Florida legislature passed a bill to dissolve Walt Disney World’s special governing district, which allows the park to operate with the same authority and responsibility as a local government. Legislation passed earlier this month during a special session would require DeSantis to appoint a five-member board of directors to oversee the park’s governing district.
DeSantis’s new memoir will hit bookstore shelves on Tuesday, according to publisher HarperCollins.