Disney to host gay rights summit in light of conflict with DeSantis

Florida government continues to fight against Disney Photo credit: Michael Rivera, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Amidst an ongoing conflict with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Walt Disney World (WDW) has announced it will host a conference in September promoting LGBTQ rights and equality in the workplace.

This comes in response to a series of unsettled disputes between WDW and DeSantis, including DeSantis’ most recent law regarding the park, Florida HB 9-B and an increasing amount of Florida legislation limiting LGBTQ rights.

The company sees DeSantis’ law, HB 9-B, to rule over Disney as a way to penalize Disney for opposing DeSantis’ “Don’t Say Gay” bill, depriving school administration and students of discussing sexual orientation and gender identity until fourth grade. The bill enables him to“appoint members of the development board that supervises the theme park and its self-governing district,” according to The Guardian.

Since DeSantis’ takeover of Disney’s government-like board, formally known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), the governor has taken measures to change this to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD). DeSantis has appointed 5 new members to the board and initiated investigation into the RCID’s previous actions as members and leaders of the “Disney-government.”

The LGBTQ conference is a defensive response by Disney, a long-standing proponent for the LGBTQ community, towards DeSantis’ actions as governor. The Workplace Summit will be held on Sept. 12 until Sept. 14, 2023, where attendees will learn the best networking strategies and be part of various training sessions.

“I think it’s likely that DeSantis will criticize the conference given his prior statements about the LGBTQ community and about organizations trying to create a safe and open climate for that community,” Gregory Koger, a professor of political science, said.

“As a private business, WDW has the right to host any conference of their liking,” Koger said.

Out & Equal is the main operation responsible for the event at WDW and holds the support of many major companies in the U.S. who are helping to sponsor the workplace summit, which, according to The Miami Herald, include Apple, McDonald’s, Uber, Walmart, Hilton and Amazon.

The non-profit organization claims that the conference is the largest of its kind in the world. They aim to bring leaders, human resource professionals and diversity and inclusion advocates together in order to work together and create equality in their workplaces.

“Out & Equal is the global convener, thought leader and catalyst actively working to achieve workplaces of equality and belonging – supporting LGBTQ+ employees and leaders who thrive in their careers and lives and achieve greater impact on the world,” Out & Equal said in their mission statement.

In efforts like hosting the conference and creating different engagement groups, Out & Equal has also shifted to adapt to the anti-LGBTQ bills that have been passed and found ways to become more inclusive despite these bills’ intentions.

“This situation obviously has two sides,” said freshman Atalie Evans-Godley, an undeclared liberal arts major. “We should just let people live and love who they want to love, without politicizing it.”

The controversy surrounding this conflict between Disney and DeSantis has a clear impact on the community. Disney brings in roughly $75.2 billion each year for Florida and continues to be one of the largest hubs in the state, and world, for family vacations and entertainment.

“This conflict has a large significance for Florida,” Koger said. “It’s surprising that DeSantis would have started such a fight with Disney, given its size and importance for the economy and culture of Florida.”

DeSantis has used Disney’s involvement to send his political message to Floridians and the rest of the country, as he hopes to mimic Florida policy across the U.S.

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