Disney CEO Bob Iger addresses ‘Don’t Say Gay’ fallout, importance of LGBTQ inclusion in stories

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Bob Iger poses with Mickey Mouse attends Mickey’s 90th Spectacular at The Shrine Auditorium on October 6, 2018 in Los Angeles.
Valerie Macon | AFP | Getty Images

Following criticism of its past handling of LGBTQ issues, Disney CEO Bob Iger on Monday told employees that inclusion and acceptance are among the “core values” of the company’s storytelling.

The remarks come after Disney had faced criticism under previous CEO Bob Chapek for its handling of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which banned instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Disney’s recent inclusion of unambiguously gay characters in animated films has also drawn criticism from anti-LGBTQ activists.

“This company has been telling stories for 100 years, and those stories have had a meaningful, positive impact on the world, and one of the reasons they have had a meaningful, positive impact is because one of the core values of our storytelling is inclusion and acceptance and tolerance, and we can’t lose that,” Iger said Monday.

Iger also said that some subjects that have proven to be controversial shouldn’t be considered political.

“I don’t think when you are telling stories and attempting to be a good citizen of the world that that’s political,” he said according to sources who heard the event and asked to remain anonymous because it was not open to the public.

With the Florida bill, Chapek has said he had initially decided not to speak out on the measure because he wanted to work “behind the scenes” to engage with lawmakers. However, his silence led many opponents of the bill to believe Disney was being complacent.

When Chapek did later come out against the bill, his statements angered Florida lawmakers, including Gov. Ron DeSantis, leading the state to pass a bill that would dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was established in 1967 so that the company could develop infrastructure and be primarily responsible for the cost of municipal services such as power, water and fire protection.

The retaliatory action, set to take effect in June 2023, means Disney will now have to go through the local counties for approval of construction projects such as hotels and theme park expansions. It also means the local counties would become responsible for all of the district’s municipal services and debt.

On Monday, Iger told employees that he is still getting up to speed on the upcoming dissolution Reedy Creek district.

“I was sorry to see us dragged into the that battle, and I have no idea exactly what its ramifications are,” he told employees.

Additionally, Iger addressed the company’s previously announced plans to relocate more than 2,000 jobs from California to Florida, noting that the move has been delayed until 2026 and that the company is still finalizing details about which jobs will be transferred. He said that he isn’t reversing the decision to move these jobs, but is looking into the proposed relocation.

Another big controversy has involved Disney’s animation studios, which have started including more LGBTQ characters as part of Pixar and Disney Animation’s efforts to produce stories that include a more diverse swath of characters and cultures.

Ahead of the June release of “Lightyear,” the company made headlines after Pixar creatives managed to reinstate a same-sex kiss that had been cut from the film. Its newest animated release, “Strange World,” also includes a main character who is gay and has a crush on a boy in the film.

Disney was praised for its inclusion of such characters, but many felt the company did not do enough to support the decisions when they received backlash from some conservative critics.

On Monday, Iger pointed to films like “Black Panther” and “Coco” as examples of Disney projects that “changed the world for good.” Iger said that the company’s creative decisions won’t make everyone happy, but that its studios will not lessen their core values.

“It’s complicated, and there’s a balance,” he said.

Iger also announced plans during the town hall to keep the company’s hiring freeze in place, concentrate on making its streaming platforms profitable and reevaluate the company’s overall organizational structure.

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