Disney to host gay rights summit
Comes as DeSantis celebrates victory over ‘don’t say gay’
Walt Disney World will host what’s billed as “the largest LGBTQ+ conference in the world” in September as Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to champion his victory over the company in the fight over the so-called “don’t say gay” bill last year and legislators crack down on diversity and inclusion measures statewide.
Out & Equal, a California-based LGBTQ+ workplace equality organization, will hold its 2023 Workplace Summit at the Disney resort Sept. 11-14, a Disney spokesperson who declined to be identified told the Orlando Sentinel. The Miami Herald first reported news of the conference Thursday.
The event is expected to draw over 5,000 people, who will discuss gay and transgender inclusivity and equality in the workplace.
Disney has worked with the organization for years. Out & Equal’s website lists The Walt Disney Co. as one of its top sponsors, along with Apple, Bank of America and other corporations. A Disney marketing executive, Lisa Becket, is on Out & Equal’s Board of Directors, and Disney World has hosted events with Out & Equal before, including an LGBT Equality Institute workshop in 2015.
State Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican representing Palm Bay, sponsored the bill to dissolve the Reedy Creek district last year and wrote a bill intended to keep children from drag shows and another that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender children this session.
He told the Herald he did not view Disney’s hosting the conference as “some grand conspiracy to stick it in the eye of the state of Florida.”
“Disney is part of the fabric of the Florida economy ... If they weren’t holding any conferences at Disney World, that would be news because that would be a big problem,” he said, adding Orlando is one of the top U.S. destinations for holding such conferences.
Disney’s feud with DeSantis began last year after the company opposed the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits discussion on sexual orientation or gender identity for early-grade classrooms and restricts it as “age appropriate.”
Facing pressure from
Disney employees and fans, former CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the legislation and the company suspended political contributions in Florida after DeSantis signed the law. DeSantis then pushed legislators to abolish Disney’s special land use, utilities and public service district called Reedy Creek.
DeSantis signed the law granting the state control of the district in February and appointed five new board members, including two people who have advocated for policies against the LGBTQ+ community in recent years.
Advocates for gay and transgender communities statewide are sounding the alarm as Republican lawmakers move forward with bills targeting LGBTQ+ people, including legislation to expand the “don’t say gay” law to high school classrooms, prevent transgender children from transitioning and threaten to strip supportive parents of their parental rights, and reprimand businesses for admitting children to drag shows.
Representatives for Out & Equal did not respond to the Orlando Sentinel’s request for comment. DeSantis’ office did not immediately answer questions Thursday.
The Herald spoke with Out & Equal Chief Marketing Officer Michael Chamberlain and reported Disney World will host Out & Equal’s Workplace Summit in 2024 too as the presidential election campaign intensifies.
DeSantis has not officially declared his campaign for the presidency but has taken steps suggesting he plans to run against Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, such as mounting a national book tour visiting key battleground states.