When I used to think of Disney, I thought about growing up watching unexpected heroes. Sadly none of these movies had explicitly queer content, they still managed to instill in me an unexpected yet inherently queer lesson. A lesson of self-realization and radical self-love in the face of opposition, hate, and/or abuse. Movies like Turning Red, Hercules, Mulan, and Cinderella. Yes, especially Cinderella where, despite the surface level heteronormativity, a victim of abuse believes they deserve love.
All the other movies listed follow Cinderella’s example and show characters performing radical acts of self-love. They not only survived but thrived in the face of animosity. Every time I watch Mulan turn around to all of China bowing to her despite doing all her “wrongs”, the inner child moment that Mei Lee has with her mother, or Hercules belt Go the Distance I still shed a tear.
These movies remind me of a quote by Bell Hooks. “Queer not as being about who you’re having sex with (that can be a dimension of it); but queer as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it and has to invent and create and find a place to speak and to thrive and to live.”. That quote and these movies have a special place in my heart. These movies reminded me, a queer person, that no matter what was going on around me by believing in myself I could still win.
When I think of Disney now, I think of the multi-media conglomerate that is in direct opposition with the lessons they taught me as a child. I think of a business that refuses to stand up for those that admire and work for it. Of Mickey Mouse in a clubhouse built from greed and lies with ominous music playing in the background. I think of the villains in the movies I watched growing up, and I think Disney is just as, if not more villainous than those characters.
Maybe this seems like an over-exaggeration but to myself, other queer people, and workers at Disney, Disney’s lack of action against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill feels like a very deep betrayal. Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill would disallow discussion of gender and sexuality in schools. Disney said nothing in opposition to the bill until recently, after being called out for their silence. CEO Bob Chapek says that this lack of action was not from a lack of caring. Chapek said, “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”. He said Disney will pledge five million dollars to organizations that are protecting LGBTQ+ rights. They also held a meeting about the issue.
However, that is not enough for the majority of employees and organizations. The Human Rights Campaign, one of the organizations that would have received a donation refused Disney’s money. Interim President of the H.R.C Joni Madison says. “Until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s, Don’t Say Gay or Trans bill, don’t become dangerous laws”. Many employees believe that this bill will leave queer children at best outcasted and at worst dead.
A letter from the queer and allied employees of Pixar is the impetus behind the walkout. And the employees have their reasons to remain unmoved by Disney’s attempts. The accountability news site Popular Information states. “In the last two years, Disney has donated $197,162 to members of the Florida legislature that have already voted for the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation.”. That’s just what Disney has chosen to report as it does not have to report their indirect lobbying. Employees at Disney who could not walk out were forbidden from even wearing Disney pride wear to show support.
Employees are asking Disney to take a stronger stance in support of the LGBTQ+ community. Disney has a history of simply trying to placate both sides. They want Disney to stop political donations to Florida politicians who are a threat to LGBTQ+ rights. Including Governor Ron DeSantis. Employees also want Disney to actually commit to making a plan to protect their LGBTQ+ staff from dangerous legislation. Disney committed to other causes, such as stopping all political donations to members of Congress who had objected to the presidential election results. So Disney can and has made actual commitments in order to change the outcome of legislation and make a difference. Disney just does not care enough about queer people to do so.
In the letter, it was also revealed that the employees were disappointed with Disney. Not only because of their lack of action against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill but also for cutting “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection” from their movies. The letter states: “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 continues. “Even if creating LGBTQIA+ content was the answer to fixing the discriminatory legislation in the world, we are being barred from creating it.”
They also note that Disney has always been behind when it comes to supporting queer people. According to the letter “Disney Parks did not officially host Pride until 2019, in Paris alone.” Disney has a history of shutting down fan-created Pride events in the park. They have gone so far as to remove same-sex couples for dancing together in the 1980’s. Additionally, Disney began capitalizing on Pride in 2018 with The Rainbow Mickey Collection. While de-emphasizing the terms like LGBTQ+ and not even featuring explicitly LGBTQIA+ pieces such as Pride flag pins until 2021.
Considering how many queer folks have made Disney what it is today Disney could do far more to protect and listen to the people who actually work for them. Elton John wrote for The Lion King soundtrack. Stephanie Beatriz voices Mirabel in Encanto. Howard Ashman wrote the music for The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, and Aladdin. Dana Terrace created The Owl House, and many more queer people have worked tirelessly to create Disney films and media. These people all made Disney better, even saved the company at certain points. Now queer employees are not able to continue the important work they’ve always done.
It’s not just queer people that work at Disney, queer people especially queer children are consumers of Disney media. Disney has said they care about the welfare of children. But refusing to take actual action against bills like “Don’t Say Gay” and the politicians who support them is despicable. Especially when their most vulnerable audience’s quality of life is at stake is. Disney is looking the other way when kids’ lives are at stake. Kids who are at odds with everything around them.
Kids who never get to see themselves as heroes in Disney films. Disney is refusing to stand up for kids. So I do not think it is ridiculous to call Disney a villain. Not sticking up for kids, censoring media, only opposing dangerous legislation when it’s far too late, donating money to politicians who are attempting to erase not just queerness but also queer children, these are evil and disgusting acts. Disney may have created its best villain yet in its own company. But villains tend to lose at the end of the day, and with the amount of pushback that has happened with many brave people standing and speaking up, I believe the end of Disney’s day is nearing.
For more from Sydney, check out her review of the Proud Family: Louder and Prouder here!