By Frank Pallotta, CNN Business
Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO, was criticized Monday for speaking out about — but not directly condemning — Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, with some feeling that Disney’s statement fell short. On Wednesday, Chapek agreed with the criticism.
“I understand our original approach, no matter how well intended, didn’t quite get the job done,” he said during the company’s annual shareholders meeting.
Chapek took a stronger stance against the bill Wednesday, telling shareholders that he called Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Wednesday morning to convey the company’s “disappointment and concern.” Chapek said if the legislation becomes law it “could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families.”
“The governor heard our concerns and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address them,” Chapek said.
He added that the outcome in Florida was “not what many of us were hoping for, especially our LGBTQ+ employees.”
Chapek also went on to say that Disney tried working behind the scenes to denounce the bill.
“While we have been strong supporters of the community for decades, I understand that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” Chapek said. “We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
The CEO added that the company was hopeful that “our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome.”
“Ultimately, we were unsuccessful,” he said.
Chapek also mentioned that Disney would pledge $5 million to organizations working to protect LGTBQ+ rights and would sign the Human Rights Campaign’s statement opposing similar legislation efforts around the country.
“Disney contacted our office today to speak with the governor. This is the first time we have heard from Disney regarding HB 1557,” Christina Pushaw, a spokeswoman for Governor DeSantis told CNN. “The governor did take the call from Mr. Chapek. The governor’s position has not changed. No in-person meeting has been scheduled yet.”
In response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would ban educators from discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms, Chapek said Monday that he and Disney’s leadership “unequivocally stand” with LGBTQ+ employees.
He added that the company, which employs over 75,000 workers in Florida, is committed to inclusivity.
However, he did not take a direct stand against the bill at that time, noting that corporate statements are “often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”
Chapek said one of the ways Disney can make lasting change is through its content, citing films like “Encanto” and TV shows like “Modern Family.”
“These and all of our diverse stories are our corporate statements — and they are more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort,” he said.
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— CNN’s Steve Contorno contributed to this report.