Disney CEO Apologizes for 'Painful' Silence amid Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' Bill: 'I Let You Down'

"You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry," Disney CEO Bob Chapek wrote in an email to employees

Bob Chapek
Bob Chapek. Photo: Owen Hoffmann/Patrick McMullan via Getty

Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek is apologizing for the company's "silence" amid the passing of Florida's new legislation, denounced by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

In an email to Disney employees ("but especially our LGBTQ+ community") on Friday, obtained by Variety, Chapek, 61, thanked those "who have reached out to me sharing your pain, frustration and sadness over the company's response to the" bill, which passed the state Senate on Tuesday.

Disney employs tens of thousands of people at Walt Disney World in Orlando.

"Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was," Chapek said in the email. "It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights."

"You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry," he added.

The recently passed bill (HB 1557) prohibits discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in primary school classrooms. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he will sign the bill.

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Turning Red
Turning Red (2022). Disney/Pixar

Chapek praised Disney employees in his email for "see(ing) the power of this great company as an opportunity to do good. I agree. Yes, we need to use our influence to promote that good by telling inclusive stories, but also by standing up for the rights of all."

"Starting immediately," said the CEO, Disney is "increasing [their] support for advocacy groups to combat similar legislation in other states."

"We are hard at work creating a new framework for our political giving that will ensure our advocacy better reflects our values," he continued. "And today, we are pausing all political donations in the state of Florida pending this review."

Chapek said he knows "there is so much more work to be done," but promised he is "committed to this work and to you all, and will continue to engage with the LGBTQ+ community so that I can become a better ally."

"You will hear more about our progress in the coming weeks," he added. "I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community. I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve."

Bob Chapek
Bob Chapek. Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty

A statement released Wednesday, attributed to "the LGBTQIA+ employees of Pixar, and their allies," obtained by Variety, accused Disney of cutting "nearly every moment of overtly gay affection" from Pixar titles.

"We at Pixar have personally witnessed beautiful stories, full of diverse characters, come back from Disney corporate reviews shaved down to crumbs of what they once were," the letter read. "Nearly every moment of overtly gay affection is cut at Disney's behest, regardless of when there is protest from both the creative teams and executive leadership at Pixar."

It continued, "Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it. Beyond the 'inspiring content' that we aren't even allowed to create, we require action."

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The letter urged Disney leadership to "immediately withdraw all financial support from the legislators behind the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, to fully denounce this legislation publicly, and to make amends for their financial involvement."

Chapek addressed the issue Wednesday during Disney's annual shareholders meeting.

"While we have been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill," Chapek said, per Deadline.

He continued, "We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we felt we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle."

"And we were hoping that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome. But, despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful," Chapek added.

Luca (2021). Disney/Pixar

Chapek said he reached out to DeSantis, 43, "to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law it could be used to target LGBTQ kids and families," and that the governor has agreed to meet with him and LGBTQ members of Disney's senior team.

Disney has not responded to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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