ORLANDO, Fla. (NewsNation) — Disney employees in Florida are expected to hold a walkout Tuesday in protest of a controversial legislation dubbed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The legislation awaiting the governor’s signature bars instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
On the one side are LGBTQ advocates and Disney workers calling for a walkout in protest of CEO Bob Chapek’s slow response in publicly criticizing the legislation. On the other are politicians like Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, who accuse the entertainment conglomerate of bending to cancel culture after a Disney decision to temporarily suspend political contributions in the state.
It is unclear how many employees would walk out or what might happen to those who do. Union leaders for the tens of thousands of unionized workers at Disney theme parks in Florida and California said they saw no momentum among their members for a walkout, and advised them not to do so because it would defy contractual obligations. Organizers said they expected some participation from production, marketing, IT and other non-unionized jobs.
“I think it pays dividends with parents across the state of Florida regardless of political divisions,” said Evan Power, the Republican Party chairman in Leon County.
Power believes a harsh minority of Disney employees are pushing the issue and DeSantis has more to gain by taking the side of parents who want more control over education and “sexual conversations” in early grades at school.
Romualdas Dulskis is a Teamsters official in Orlando whose local represents costumed characters who portray Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and Stitch at Walt Disney World, along with bus drivers and other Disney workers. He says his union did not support the walkout.
“That’s just not the way we are going to go about this,” he said.
Nevertheless, union leaders said contracts prohibit work stoppages or disruptions.
“I don’t want to downplay anyone’s efforts, if someone feels what they are doing is the right way to make an impact,” said Eric Clinton, president of Unite Here! Local 362, which represents custodians, housekeepers and other Disney World theme park workers. “We aren’t part of that. It would violate our contract if members of our union participated, though we are concerned about the issue, of course.”
One of the organizers of the walkout, a New York-based employee, said they were expecting participation by workers with the “privilege” to be able to protest to stand up for those who can’t, the employee said. The worker spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of being targeted online and because organizers didn’t want a single organizer taking the spotlight.
Workers participating in the walkout plan to meet up with each other at locations in Orlando, New York City, Anaheim and Burbank, California, where the company is headquartered.
“Queer employees have been pushing for years to make this company better — it shouldn’t have taken all this for us to get the attention of people up the food chain. Our voices mattered before all this,” organizers tweeted.
A Disney spokesman didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Disney employed 190,000 workers as of last October, with roughly three-quarters working in its theme parks division.
Republican lawmakers pushing the Florida legislation have argued that parents, not teachers, should be the ones talking to their children about gender issues during their early formative years.
The legislation has attracted scrutiny from Biden, who called it “hateful,” as well as other Democrats who argue it demonizes LGBTQ people. It has been sent to DeSantis, who is expected to sign it into law.
Disney has long been influential in Florida politics, tending to be conservative and supporting Republicans who have been in control of Tallahassee, the state capital, for two decades, but also being more open on social issues, said Patricia Campos-Medina, co-director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University.
Organizers of the walkout maintain that withholding political contributions isn’t enough.
On a website calling for the walkout, the group says that until the legislation is repealed, Disney leaders need to stop investments in Florida, including the relocation of 2,000 mostly professional jobs from its California headquarters to Orlando. They also say Disney needs to develop an LGBTQ brand similar to the Onyx Collective, an initiative aimed at developing content by and for people of color.