Walt Disney’s CEO has apologised for his “painful silence” on a Florida sex education bill critics warn will isolate LGBT youth.
“You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry,” Bob Chapek told employees.
His comments come amid internal complaints that “gay affection” is routinely cut from some Disney films.
The so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill is due to become law.
It bans discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten to third grade classes (aged 8-9) or when “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards”.
Formally known as the Parental Rights in Education bill, it also allows private citizens to sue and seek unspecified damages if they believe a school district has violated the law.
The White House has decried its passage as “hateful legislation targeting vulnerable students”.
LGBT leaders at Disney have been clamouring for the company to speak out against the bill.
In a letter to Disney leadership, a copy of which was obtained by the BBC, LGBT employees at Pixar – the company’s computer animation division – accused the parent company of stepping back from public debate around “bigoted legislation” while continuing to profit from the LGBT community.
They also levelled a more serious charge: that Disney has cut “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” from its content “regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar”. The company did not reply to BBC’s requests for comment.
On Friday, Mr Chapek told employees in a memo that he was wrong to have been silent on the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill.
The admission came after he had claimed earlier in the week that he believed “corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds” and Disney’s involvement would make it “a political football” – a statement that was denounced by animators on social media, who called it a “momentous misstep”.
Amid the public criticism, Mr Chapek backtracked, telling shareholders on Wednesday that Disney had been “opposed to the bill from the outset” and he had phoned Florida Governor Ron DeSantis – who plans to approve the bill – to express his concerns.
Mr Chapek also pledged a $5m (£3.8m) donation to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) LGBT advocacy group.
But the volte-face created even more fallout.
HRC turned down Disney’s donation and called on the entertainment giant to take “meaningful action” against the bill.
The company is a major tourism driver in the state, drawing some 58 million people per year to its flagship Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. It also employs 77,000 Floridians.
And at a rally, Governor DeSantis told supporters the company has fallen for “phony hysteria” and wants to appease angry liberals.
His office confirmed to the BBC the governor took a call from Mr Chapek but intends to sign the bill.