With the start of the NCAA women's tournament on Friday, two ESPN announcers used the platform to take a stand against Florida House Bill 1557, dubbed by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" bill.
To start the second half of Friday's game between South Carolina and Howard, ESPN's Carolyn Peck and Courtney Lyle spoke about the bill in solidarity with their Disney colleagues. Disney owns ESPN.
"Normally at this time we would take a look back at the first half," Courtney Lyle said while introducing the second half. "But there are things bigger than basketball that need to be addressed at this time. Our friends our family, our co-workers — the players and coaches in our community are hurting right now.
"At 3, about eight minutes ago, our LGBTQIA+ teammates at Disney asked for our solidarity and support including our company's support in opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Bill in the state of Florida and similar legislation across the United States."
Lyle's broadcast partner Carolyn Peck then introduced a moment of silence.
"A threat to any human rights is a threat to all human rights, Peck said. "At this time, Courtney and I, we're going to take a pause from our broadcast to show our love and support for our friends, our family and our colleagues."
Gameplay then started with Peck and Lyle declining to call the action for the first two minutes of the half.
"We love our teammates. We support our teammates. We are one," Lyle said to conclude the moment of silence.
"Absolutely," Peck responded.
Moment of silence part of larger Disney employee protest
Disney — the largest private-sector employer in Florida — has come under scrutiny for its response to the Florida bill. News surfaced last week that Disney had contributed nearly $300,000 among its political donations to backers of the controversial bill.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek wrote in a March 7 memo to employees that Disney leadership stands in support of LGBTQ+ employees, but that publicly condemning the bill would diminish Disney's "ability to tell such stories" that address the LGBTQ+ community. He then wrote that: "Corporate statements do very little to change outcomes or minds" and "are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame. Simply put, they can be counterproductive and undermine more effective ways to achieve change."
Chapek's response drew swift criticism from the Disney community, and he later walked back his initial response in a March 11 statement.
“I truly believe we are an infinitely better and stronger company because of our LGBTQ+ community,” Chapek wrote. “I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on — and I will be an outspoken champion for the protections, visibility, and opportunity you deserve.”
Disney employees have remained critical of Chapek with organizers planning walkouts and vowing in a statement to "take a stand against TWDC’s apathy in the face of the bigoted 'Don’t Say Gay or Trans' bill." The walkouts are scheduled daily from March 15-21 from 3-3:15 p.m. local time for Disney employees, the time that coincided with Lyle's and Peck's silent protest Friday.
The bill bars “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity" in kindergarten through third grade. It also allows parents to sue school districts over deemed violations, a clause that critics argue creates a chilling effect on any discussion regarding gender or sexual orientation.
The bill has passed the state legislature and been sent to the desk of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is expected to sign it.