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Disney workers walk out over the company's response to so-called 'Don't Say Gay' bill

A statue of Walt Disney and Micky Mouse stand near the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Jan. 9, 2019.
John Raoux
A statue of Walt Disney and Micky Mouse stand near the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. on Jan. 9, 2019.

Some employees of The Walt Disney Company walked off the job Tuesday to protest what they said was the company's tepid response to a Florida bill that would restrict discussion of gender and sexuality in schools.

Hundreds of employees were seen marching out of the company's headquarters in Burbank, Calif., Tuesday morning, according to CNBC field producer Steve Desaulniers.

The full-scale walkout came after Disney employees planned a series of smaller walkouts during their 15-minute breaks to urge the company to take a stronger stance against the Parental Rights in Education legislation, which advocates have dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill.

"The recent statements by The Walt Disney Company (TWDC) leadership regarding the Florida legislature's recent 'Don't Say Gay' bill have utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation," an open letter by Disney employees reads.

"Primarily, those statements have indicated that leadership still does not truly understand the impact this legislation is having not only on Cast Members in the state of Florida, but on all members of the LGBTQIA+ community in the company and beyond," the letter added.

What the employees want

Employees are calling for Disney to stop making political donations to certain Florida politicians – including Gov. Ron DeSantis – and commit to a plan to protect LGBTQIA+ staff from such legislation, among other demands.

The discord inside the entertainment giant grew until, earlier this month, Disney CEO Bob Chapek apologized for not speaking out sooner against the bill, saying he should have been a "stronger ally in the fight for equal rights."

Chapek said he called DeSantis to express his concerns about the bill becoming law and said the company was "reassessing our approach to advocacy," including political donations in Florida, where Walt Disney World is located.

Where the bill now stands

Company executives announced during a Monday town hall meeting with employees that Chapek would embark on a "listening tour" with workers in an effort to assuage their concerns over Disney's response to the legislation, Bloomberg reported.

Still, organizers claimed that some employees of Disneyland in California who did not feel safe to walk out Tuesday were told they couldn't wear "pride/trans Mickey pins" – which they said Disney itself sells – to show their support.

Florida's Senate and House, both of which are controlled by Republicans, passed the legislation. To become law it now needs the signature of DeSantis, who has signaled his support.

DeSantis has also called Disney a "woke" corporation for opposing the bill.

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