For decades, Florida’s Walt Disney World has been spreading joy and magic to billions who visit from around the world. And for decades, the Disney organization has pretty much remained politically neutral. Now, however, the “Most Magical Place on Earth,” has become yet another political battlefield.
It all began when Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, signed HB 1557 into law. As Wikipedia describes, “The Parental Rights in Education Act, commonly known by critics as the ‘Don’t Say Gay bill,’ is a law introduced and passed in 2022 which outlined new statutes for primary education, most notably prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten to grade 3 in Florida public school districts, or instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in a manner that is not ‘age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students’ in any grade.”
At 50 million visitors each year, Disney World has become the world’s most visited theme park employing roughly 80,000 people, many of whom are part of the LGBTQ community. While the organization has maintained support for the rights of all its staff, Disney management was criticized by its employees for not taking a more vocal stance. That’s when they stepped into the deep end of the political pool.
“Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law,” a Disney spokesperson said. “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family across the country.”
Angered by Disney’s statement, DeSantis, Trump’s most vocal apostle, fixed his vindictive crosshairs on the entertainment giant.
“The Florida House voted to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district — a privilege that Disney has held for 55 years, effectively allowing the company to self-govern its 25,000-acre theme park complex,” The New York Times reports. “The Florida Senate voted on Wednesday to eliminate the special zone, which is called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Having cleared the way to this outcome with a formal proclamation, Gov. Ron DeSantis will almost certainly make the measure official by adding his signature. It would take effect in June next year.”
In a statement, DeSantis clearly uses language to appeal to the far-right.
“If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” Mr. DeSantis, a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2024, wrote in a fund-raising email to supporters on Wednesday. “I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state,” he continued. “Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. Disney thought they ruled Florida. They even tried to attack me to advance their woke agenda.”
However, by punishing Disney, DeSantis is now punishing taxpayers.
“The law doesn’t take effect until June 2023, giving local governments near Disney 14 months to decide how to manage and pay for the [40 square miles] of public services, such as road maintenance and sewage treatment,” The Washington Post reports.
For DeSantis and his Republican brethren, it is all about retribution. And it’s a trend that has only gotten worse.
“The first sign of strain,” MSNBC reports, “came about a year ago, when Republicans started imposing new voting restrictions, prompting criticisms from many prominent American businesses. Many in the party responded by threatening major corporations with retaliatory policy measures if they said anything negative in public about the GOP’s voter-suppression campaign.
“Indeed, it was a year ago this week when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told corporations to ‘stay out of politics,’ adding that business ‘will invite serious consequences’ if they take public stands on issues in ways Republicans don’t like.”
For now, the message to Disney and other corporations who wish to challenge Boss DeSantis is clear: either agree with me or keep your damn mouth shut.