Distress in Disneyland

State of America – 2022

March 25, 2022 – You probably heard about a Disney employee walkout a few days ago. You probably didn’t hear from Disney employees on the other side of the issue. So, I’m going to publish their statement below. I think it’s worth reading as it presents a reasonable solution for corporations experiencing pressure to support an ideological agenda.

The protesters felt that Disney’s CEO is not doing enough on behalf of the LGBTQ cause. According to NBC News, “dozens” of employees staged a walkout in Burbank, and at other locations. Others spoke out in interviews and on social media.

When asked for his opinion on the protest, Disney star Oscar Isaac said,
“I guess my comment would be [starts singing] gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gay gayyyyyy! Yeah, it’s an absolutely ridiculous law. It’s insane. It’s insanity. And I hope that Disney as a company comes out as forcefully as possible against this idea. It’s astounding that it even exists in this country.”

Isaac and the protesters are reacting to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, nicknamed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by LGBTQ activists. The bill, recently signed by governor DeSantis, prohibits “classroom instruction” of gender ideology in public schools K thru 3rd grade.

That doesn’t strike me as insane, given how wildly diverse opinions now are around the topic of human sexuality. This diversity of opinion stems from differing worldviews. Parents do indeed have a responsibility to exercise caution around who they trust to influence their children on a topic as fundamental and consequential as sex. It seems right to give small children a few years to learn the alphabet and have a childhood before hitting them with sexual identity issues that many adults apparently can’t figure out.

But what’s a corporation to do?

Maybe it would be good for corporations to stay out of the epistemology business. Can board members be split over whether or not to support a given ideological campaign, or must a corporation be an ideological monolith? Do we now want corporations to publish their statement of beliefs so we can know whether or not to work for them, or buy from them? Should we continue dividing America up into those who agree with us (the sane) and those who don’t (the insane)?

Maybe corporations should simply provide whatever goods or services they offer, without being pressured to participate in partisan politics. I’d like to know that they follow ethical practices and treat their employees fairly, but I don’t want to have to care about their politics. Except I wish they’d stop buckling to extremist ideologues.

At any rate, below is the published letter by another Disney minority:

Disney Employees’ Open Letter in Favor of a Politically Neutral Disney

As employees of the Walt Disney Company, we believe in the dignity of all people. This is why we do what we do. We write stories. We make costumes. We act in parades. We run cruises. We stream movies. We make magic. We do this because our work contributes to a fountain of wonder that inspires joy, awe, and delight in guests and audiences of all ages. We are proud employees of the Walt Disney Company. We love our jobs because we get to share the wonder of life and human experience with millions of people worldwide.

However, over the last few years, one group of cast members has become invisible within the company. The Walt Disney Company has come to be an increasingly uncomfortable place to work for those of us whose political and religious views are not explicitly progressive. We watch quietly as our beliefs come under attack from our own employer, and we frequently see those who share our opinions condemned as villains by our own leadership.

The company’s evolving response to the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida has left many of us wondering what place we have in a company actively promoting a political agenda so far removed from our own. TWDC leadership frequently communicates its commitment to creating an inclusive workplace where cast members feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and being their authentic selves at work. That is not our workplace experience.

Over the last few weeks, we have watched as our leadership has expressed their condemnation for laws and policies we support. We have watched as our colleagues, convinced that no one in the company could possibly disagree with them, grow increasingly aggressive in their demands. They insist that TWDC take a strong stance on not only this issue but other legislation and openly advocate for the punishment of employees who disagree with them.

An internal poll within the company went out a few months ago asking us if we felt accepted in the company. Many of us didn’t complete it because the nature of the questions made us worry that the results of the poll could be used to target us for quietly holding a position that runs against the progressive orthodoxy that Disney seems to promote. TWDC has fostered an environment of fear that any employee who does not toe the line will be exposed and dismissed.

Much has been made of our internal efforts to Reimagine Tomorrow, but as much as diversity and inclusion are promoted, the tomorrow being reimagined doesn’t seem to have much room for religious or political conservatives within the company. Left-leaning cast members are free to promote their agenda and organize on company time using company resources. They call their fellow employees “bigots” and pressure TWDC to use corporate influence to further their left-wing legislative goals.

Meanwhile, those of us who don’t align with this vision keep our heads down and do our work without bringing our personal beliefs into the workplace. We’ve done this without complaint because we don’t want to rock the boat, but the boat is being rocked, and our leadership seems compelled to reward those who are rocking it.

Employees who want TWDC to make left-wing political statements are encouraged, while those of us who want the company to remain neutral can say so only in a whisper out of fear of professional retaliation. The company we love seems to think we don’t exist or don’t belong here. This politicization of our corporate culture is damaging morale and causing many of us to feel our days with TWDC might be numbered.

Furthermore, as this politicization makes its way into our content and public messaging, our more conservative customers will feel similarly unwanted. You can only preach at or vilify your audience for so long before they decide to spend their money elsewhere.

Working for The Walt Disney Company is a dream come true. We love being part of creating the magic that so many people around the world enjoy. Our storytelling is second to none. It resonates with people from all walks of life across the political spectrum. Our parks are the source of joy and inspiration that Walt hoped they would become. Every year, millions of guests escape an increasingly divided world to a place where they can relive fond memories of the past and savor the challenge and promise of the future. They do this alongside thousands of other guests that might not have anything in common with them other than a shared love of Disney.

The unique brand of family entertainment that Disney is known for is an objective good in this dark world. It brings people together and provides cultural touchpoints that even the worst enemies can unite over. At the height of COVID lockdowns in the Summer of 2020 when the country was fiercely divided over a range of issues, Hamilton provided us something to collectively celebrate. At the end of an incredibly contentious election year, The Mandalorian was there to soothe a weary nation with non-political entertainment we could all enjoy no matter who you voted for. When Disney takes sides in political debates, they deprive the world of a shared love we all have in common. TWDC is uniquely situated to provide experiences and entertainment that can bridge our national divide and bring us all together.

CEO, Bob Chapek had the right idea in his original statement that he has since walked back. In Chapek’s own words, “As we have seen time and again, corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds. … Instead, they are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.” Disney is far more important and impactful to the world by avoiding politics than it will ever be by embracing a political agenda. By focusing on entertainment that inspires us with stories of universal appeal, we are doing good in the world.

Disney shouldn’t be a vehicle for one demographic’s political activism. It’s so much bigger and more important than that. More than ever, the world needs things that we can unite around. That’s the most valuable role The Walt Disney Company could play in the world at this time. It’s a role we’ve played for nearly a century, and it would be a shame to throw all of that away in the face of left-wing political pressure. Please don’t let Disney become just another thing we divide over.

What do you think? Is it possible for corporations to be politically neutral?

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13 comments on “Distress in Disneyland

  1. Stacia Roble says:

    I think that was an excellent letter. However, I also think Disney has ventured too far to the left to come back to the center. Besides alienating employees, as per the letter writer, Disney IS alienating the general public. I grew up with the Mickey Mouse Club so this deterioration is very sad. My husband and I spent our honeymoon in the late 70’s at Fort Wilderness. But Disney will not get any more of my money; there are other pleasant vacation destinations that don’t scream “gay pride”. In a world increasingly confusing to our children, Disney is not doing upright parents any favors by clearly espousing progressive stances. Disney can continue to advocate for this dangerous agenda at their own peril!

    • Hi Stacia,
      Yes, I think Disney lost the trust of many conservative parents a long time ago. It’s sad in a way to think that the only alternative is for conservative creatives to split off and form their own companies. Is there no way for people of differing perspectives to find universal themes and create stories that speak positively to everyone? I like the plea at the end of the letter to not let Disney become just another thing we divide over.

  2. John Kim says:

    I don’t think any corporations are politically neutral, nor do they need to be. Corporations are private entities, and they can be Christian, Jewish, environmentalist, patriotic, conservative, progressive, or anything else. My main beef with large corporations is that they are virtually governments in how much power they have. My preference would be to reduce their power over people rather than somehow force them to be neutral.

    My larger interest is in the Florida law in the first place. You commented that the Florida law prohibits teaching “gender ideology” — but the law makes no mention of ideology. What it specifically says is:

    “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

    Because it is deliberately vague, this has been characterized as “Don’t Say Gay” — and it threatens even ordinary mention of LGBT people in the course of instruction. Kids from a very young age are perfectly aware of sexual orientation. Nearly every Disney animated movie has a romantic relationship. People fall in love and marry. They can see romantic relationships in their parents and other families, which may well include gay relationships.

    From my view, gay people exist. I’ve known about them from childhood because there was a gay couple in my church – even though they were banned from mention most other places. My son has been aware of them since an even earlier age, since we have close friends and family members who are gay.

    It is not indoctrinating children simply to acknowledge the existence of gay, any more than it is indoctrinating children in Judaism to mention the existence of Jews, or that it is indoctinating children to get divorced by mentioning divorce. In the course of learning about history and society, children should learn about people’s differing cultures, religions, and languages as well as differing marriage and romance.

    • Hi John,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Please note that I used the precise language of the bill – “classroom instruction” – in my description. It is true that the bill does not use the phrase “gender ideology,” (nor does it use the word “gay”), but clearly, gender ideology encompasses what the bill goes on to describe.

      In today’s climate, the topic of human sexuality is fraught with divisive ideas in a way that was not the case when we were raising our kids. It is no longer simply a matter of “acknowledging the existence of gay.” In my opinion there really can now be no agreement on the most fundamental aspects of human sexuality. Consider simple statements that are obvious to people on either side, like, “trans women are women,” or “men can get pregnant,” or “the continued existence of humanity depends upon a sexual/gender binary.” But intelligent adults disagree vociferously over these statements. How are 7 year olds supposed to parse them?

      Throw in the fact that classroom teachers on either side of the debate may feel they are serving the greater good by teaching their opinion of such ideas to other people’s children, and the Florida law seems reasonable to me.

      Furthermore, discussing human sexuality is not like discussing grammer or mathematics, or even history. It goes to each person’s identity on the most profound and consequential level. Both sides would perhaps agree with this and give it as a reason that instruction should be given. But since there can be no agreement, and since both views cannot both be true, (either trans women are women, or they are not,) it seems reasonable to formally teach neither in the public school classroom. Personally, I always felt that it was my role as a parent to teach my kids about human sexuality anyway.

      What do you think is the harm in having no formal classroom instruction for K thru 3 kids in public schools regarding gender identity?

      • John Kim says:

        Thanks for the reply, Scott. Regarding your question — when you say no formal classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity, do you mean that there are no lessons specifically with those topics – but it is still legal to teach LGBT characters in literature, LGBT figures in history, and similar?

        This would address my biggest objection — the erasure of LGBT people — so I’d strongly prefer it to the vaguely-worded Florida law.

        Still, it would be objected to by both sides, which could be the sign of a compromise, but might also be more confusing to students. They would be taught about LGBT people, but aren’t taught definitions or background – which will leave them with a lot of questions.

        I suspect the next struggle would be over whether having discussion of an LGBT character in literature or similar crosses the line into formal instruction on the topic.

        • Before I respond would you mind explaining how you would define “gay” to a second grader, or how you think it should be defined for a K – 3 kid?

          (I’m not sure I agree with your statement, “Kids from a very young age are perfectly aware of sexual orientation.”)

          • John Kim says:

            Sure, Scott.

            Kids are aware of sexual orientation – though in the past, they ​usually have only been aware of heterosexual orientation. They know that men and women can have romantic relationships together, and that these relationships are different than just being friends, or siblings, or co-workers. They know signals of a romantic relationship, like kissing and similar. Most of the old G-rated Disney movies have a romantic love story, and the signals are clearly shown, like in the “twitterpated” scene in Bambi.

            I would define gay by saying that gay men are romantically interested in other men instead of women. So a gay man would fall in love and marry another man, instead of falling in love and marrying a woman. That would be perfectly understandable to K-3 students.

            I find that when children grow up with gay parents, for example, they’ve generally had it explained well before kindergarten, and probably have had to answer questions about it from their preschool friends.

            • Okay, thanks. My opinion, in response to your question is that there certainly should be “no lessons specifically with those topics.” But as for “teaching LGBT characters in literature, LGBT figures in history, and similar,” I can’t imagine why that would be necessary at that grade level.

              Let’s say George Washington was gay. At a K thru 3 level, how is his sexual orientation pertinent to American history? The fact would certainly come out in later grades (and still not be terribly pertinent, imo), so it not “erasing gays” to present historical public figures for what they did, as opposed to what their personal sexual orientation was. What’s the rush to inject this into the K thru 3 classroom?

              Someone might answer, “Gay kids need to see gay role models,” or “because gays are the minority, hetero assumptions always prevail against them,” or something similar. But at the K thru 12 level, kids are far from puberty and, hopefully, far from acting on their sexual identity in a significant or permanent way. I used to teach 1st and 2nd grade. Sexuality never came up in my classroom, and if it had I would have probably deferred questions to the parents. But I feel like a lot of teachers have a sense of mission around this, so maybe no mention is the best solution.

              As sort of a curious side note, speaking of minorities needing role models and the force of prevailing assumptions: I’m going to argue that despite being a white male, I’ve felt like a minority for all of my life, especially throughout my entire academic experience. References to “church-going” and religious observance were mostly excised from day to day descriptions in textbooks, and storybooks. I can hardly think of a children’s storybook now that has a family going to church as a normal part of life, yet this is a weekly reality for many American kids. Then, at the college level, my beliefs and values were openly attacked by some instructors, and by the general culture. So I just got comfortable with being a minority, and tried to teach my children to do the same. It has made me a better person. That’s not meant to be an argument for never mentioning minorities, I just think it’s part of the reality of being a minority.

              In the case of gender theory, I think parents’ rights in education trumps an educator’s desire to teach other people’s kids a sexual ideology that may be contrary to parents’ beliefs (and, more to the point, is incorrect, imo.) If educators emphasize the innate value and dignity of every human being, despite differences, shouldn’t that create a culture of acceptance?

              (Of course, a materialistic/evolutionary worldview provides no basis for a belief in the innate worth and dignity of every person, but that’s another battle. Worth and dignity can still be taught without a basis, as so much else is taught this way.)

  3. Thanks for sharing this letter, Scott. I hadn’t seen it anywhere in the media (which is not surprising).

    Two things:

    “Maybe it would be good for corporations to stay out of the epistemology business.”

    While Disney is taking a position on the moral status of the law in question, it’s not clear how they’re offering an epistemology to which anyone must subscribe.

    “Is it possible for corporations to be politically neutral?”

    Sure, but it’s not clear why a company cannot share its Christian values. This is a case of a few bad apples spoiling the whole bunch. Why should, say, a Christian company hide its light under a bushel simply because a worldly company promotes evil and divides people? I’m not suggesting that a conservative company must necessarily get politically involved, but as a Christian, if I owned a company with the resources to promote and fight for good, it’s not clear why such a company ought to sit by and watch society crumble. Don’t Christians have a duty to promote good? And if that required political involvement, don’t we have a moral duty to do so?

    C.S. lewis observed (and I’m paraphrasing best as my memory allows), “Good philosophy must exist if for no other reason than to respond to all the bad philosophy out there.” In like manner, good political action must exist if for no other reason than to oppose all the evil political action out there.

    • Hi Frank,
      Thanks for the clarifying questions. Allow me to respond to them individually and then give my summary opinion:

      > “Why should, say, a Christian company hide its light under a bushel simply because a worldly company promotes evil and divides people?…”

      I don’t believe they should. I’m in favor of companies running their business as they see fit, and having the freedom to operate according to conscience, within the constraints of the Constitution.

      > “…I’m not suggesting that a conservative company must necessarily get politically involved, but as a Christian, if I owned a company with the resources to promote and fight for good, it’s not clear why such a company ought to sit by and watch society crumble…”

      Again, if a corporation wants to do that, they should be free to do so. However, in the current climate, it is the opinion of many that it is the Christians who “promote evil and divide people.” I’m advocating for the option of corporations who wish to remain politically neutral to be free to do so and to simply provide their goods or services without being coerced into compliance w an ideological agenda.

      > “…Don’t Christians have a duty to promote good?…”

      Individuals and the Church, yes. Corporations, yes, but not necessarily in the same way. I’m advocating for the option of corporations taking a neutral position in the market, and conducting their employee policies ethically and according to conscience, and letting that be acceptable. Such a stance would be a compromise for an individual follower of Jesus, or for the Church. But since a for-profit corporation must serve (and employ) the general public without discrimination, I guess I’m arguing for a lower bar for corporations in terms of advocacy, (that is, a lower bar by Christian standards. And I guess a lower bar by “progressive” activist standards as well.)

      > “…And if that required political involvement, don’t we have a moral duty to do so?”

      Again, if a corporation wants to advertise its political affiliation, and/or make political donations, it is free to do so. But some corporations may wish to exist in order to simply provide goods/services for fair compensation and leave political involvement to the individual. That is, arguably, still promoting good, but in a less partisan way.

      Hobby Lobby comes to mind. They are one of a few businesses that are closed on Sunday, for “religious” reasons.” They also play Christian music in their stores, and sell some overtly Christian product. I doubt if anyone really cares, and if they do they can go shop at Michael’s. That’s the way the free market should work. What I’m arguing against is the current practice of extremists cancelling, coercing, threatening, suing, outing, firing, shaming, and otherwise attempting to pressure corporations to fall in line with their ideological agenda.

      I would remind everyone that the Obama administration attempted to fine Hobby Lobby $1.3 million per day for refusing to comply with the administration’s pro-abortion policy. Even though HL has always included contraceptive coverage in its employee insurance plan, that wasn’t good enough for the Left. HL objected to 4 out of 16 “contraceptive” choices, so the gov attempted to sue them into compliance with its ideology.

      The state’s proper role is to secure the constitutional rights of every citizen. If a corporate policy were to advocate refusing service to anyone based on race, sex, LGBTQ status, or religious affiliation, the state should rightfully enforce compliance to the constitution. But it is not a punishable offense to disagree with gender theory, or with the abortion industry’s agenda. A secularist worldview is no less biased than a religious worldview. In my opinion, it would be nice to see some CEOs grow a spine and say “no” to activists attempting to pressure them into supporting a partisan agenda.

      • I probably should have clarified some things, because we largely agree. By “corporation”, I’m only referring to privately held businesses. I don’t think a public corporation should really get involved in politics since it has a duty to protect the investments of its stockholders, and ‘go woke, go broke, isn’t always just an empty slogan.

        And I’m not suggesting that a private corporation need be overt in its political activity. Also, while I agree that a person who owns such a private business ought to be generally free to stay out of the political arena, there’s a point where their Christian duty requires them to act (or not act, for example, in the case of Hobby Lobby refusing to pay for abortions). But I wasn’t at all suggesting that a private Christian company has any duty to get as politically involved as, say, Mike Lindell.

  4. John Kim says:

    Hi, Scott.

    It seems that the threading doesn’t support more than two replies. So to follow on the previous thread. You had a question:

    >>> Let’s say George Washington was gay. At a K thru 3 level, how is his sexual orientation pertinent to American history? The fact would certainly come out in later grades (and still not be terribly pertinent, imo), so it not “erasing gays” to present historical public figures for what they did, as opposed to what their personal sexual orientation was. What’s the rush to inject this into the K thru 3 classroom? <<<

    When my son was this age, he read many stories of history which portrayed lives of historical figures as human beings — not simply historic dates and events, but also what their life was like. Children's books of George Washington frequently discuss his courtship and marriage with Martha Washington. I visited Mount Vernon with my ex-fiancee's children when they were in elementary school, for example, and they learned a lot about the Washington's domestic life – seeing their house and the bedroom they shared, and discussion of how they lived.

    The point of history isn't simply to learn dates and events, but to understand how people thought and lived in the past. Most of the children's biographies of famous people that I read include portrayal of their domestic life, frequently including courtship, marriage, and family. That isn't the primary focus of the biography, but it is mentioned.

    And as I mentioned, children's fiction for this age frequently has portrayals of romantic love. Stories like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are not considered inappropriate for children in this range.

    I feel that gay romance be allowed to be discussed to the same degree that hetero romance is in children's fiction and history.

    —–

    When I was growing up in the 1970s, kids this age frequently had a understanding of homosexuality – but it was usually a pejorative one. Every gay friend that I speak to has stories about being bullied for being a sissy or fag, frequently starting from the early grades. Many other children knew signs of gay behavior, and they believed that it was morally wrong. Of course, at the time, being openly gay as a adult meant you could be jailed or involuntarily committed to an asylum, so the children were only reflecting broader social attitudes.

    That was not always the case. Thankfully, I grew up in an accepting Christian community. I first learned about gay people as a child when a same-sex couple brought their adopted baby in for baptism at my church. As a congregation, we promised to support in raising that baby. Sadly, most of my LGBT friends are hostile towards Christianity because when they were growing up, they felt that Christians were hostile and negative towards them, rather than being supportive and loving. I try to emulate the love and support that I learned in the church I grew up in with my current church.

    • John, I understand your perspective. Unfortunately opinions around human sexuality have become so vastly polarized and politicized that it is difficult to know how to proceed in a way that will satisfy everyone. That’s what I’m attempting to explore.

      For example, you write, “I feel that gay romance be allowed to be discussed to the same degree that hetero romance is in children’s fiction and history.” So then, if there is NO discussion of either, is that an acceptable compromise for you, at least in grades K thru 3?

      I do think the “Parents’ Rights” movement has a point. In pubic education, we are talking about other people’s kids, after all. Over the past couple of decades I have heard a lot of stories about school staff/third parties in schools undermining parental authority, subverting parents’ wishes, and generally leaving parents out of the loop regarding some pretty serious matters. My opinion is that schools ultimately work for the parents.

      Again, it seems that fostering a culture of acceptance by teaching the innate value and dignity of every person would be something everyone could agree on.

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