Disney Heir Comes Out as Transgender and Condemns Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

·12 min read
Photo credit: Alexandr Spatari - Getty Images
Photo credit: Alexandr Spatari - Getty Images

In January, Florida lawmakers passed a bill that would gravely impact the ability to discuss sexual orientation, gender identity, and LGBTQ+ people in classrooms statewide. Titled the Parental Rights in Education bill, or the “Don’t Say Gay” bill as it’s been colloquially referred to by LGBTQ+ activists, the legislation permits parents to pursue legal action if they believe that their child’s school district is violating the “fundamental right of parents to make decisions regarding the upbringing and control of their children.”

According to the bill, these violations include encouraging “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students.” Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community have slammed the legislation, saying that the prohibition of these conversations isolates LGTBQ+ youth and eliminates open, inclusive learning in schools. It further prevents LGBTQ+ youth from seeking guidance from their educators.

Florida's House of Representatives passed the bill in a vote on February 24, and the Republican-controlled Senate approved it on Tuesday, March 8. Now, the "Don't Say Gay" bill has been signed into law by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Below, we break down more details surrounding the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, officially known as HB 1557/SB 1834, and ways you can voice your opposition to the dangerous new law.

Why was this bill introduced?

The “Don’t Say Gay” legislation was introduced by Republican Representative Joe Harding and Republican Senator Dennis Baxley. Supporters argue that this bill is about parental rights: “This bill is about defending the most awesome responsibility a person can have: being a parent,” Harding said on January 20, per The Hill.

The bill itself does not specify exactly what conversations or subject topics would be prohibited under this legislation. As cited earlier, the text only references “primary grade levels.” According to NBC News, Harding has expressed that it would pertain to students in kindergarten through third grade: "Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards," he said.

Has the bill been signed into law?

Yes. On Monday, March 28, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law. It was initially passed by Florida's House of Representatives in a 69-47 vote on February 24. Days later, on February 28, the final state Senate committee approved the bill, which means it went to a full Senate vote. Then on Tuesday, March 8, the Senate passed the bill in a 22-17 vote and sent it to Gov. DeSantis's desk for signature. The law goes into effect on July 1, and school district plans need to be updated by June 30, 2023.

According to government documents, Harding proposed an amendment on February 18 that would require school administrators to out a student's sexual or gender identity to their parents or family within six weeks of finding out: "The school principal or his or her designee shall develop a plan, using all available governmental resources, to disclose such information within 6 weeks after the decision to withhold such information from the parent." The House convened on Tuesday, February 22, to debate and vote on the entire bill, but just an hour before meeting, Harding withdrew this amendment.

"The exaggeration and misrepresentation in reporting about the amendment was a distraction; all the amendment did was create procedures around how, when and how long information was withheld from parents so that there was a clear process and kids knew what to expect," Harding said in a statement, per the Tallahassee Democrat. "Nothing in the amendment was about outing a student. Rather than battle misinformation related to the amendment, I decided to focus on the primary bill that empowers parents to be engaged in their children’s lives."

Has President Biden addressed the new law?

Yes. In a statement on Twitter, President Biden condemned the discriminatory legislation.

“Every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom. Our LGBTQI+ youth deserve to be affirmed and accepted just as they are. My Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country,” he wrote.

On March 8, two members of Biden's administration, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Rachel L. Levine, virtually met with LGBTQ+ students in Florida, who discussed their concerns over the bill's passing. In a statement, Cardona promised to "protect, support, and provide opportunities for LGBTQI+ students and all students."

President Biden previously spoke out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill on February 8: “I want every member of the LGBTQI+ community — especially the kids who will be impacted by this hateful bill — to know that you are loved and accepted just as you are. I have your back, and my Administration will continue to fight for the protections and safety you deserve,” he expressed.

Biden’s tweet followed a similar denunciation from the White House.

“Every parent hopes that our leaders will ensure their children’s safety, protection, and freedom. Today, conservative politicians in Florida rejected those basic values by advancing legislation that is designed to target and attack the kids who need support the most – LGBTQI+ students, who are already vulnerable to bullying and violence just for being themselves,” the statement read, according to the Associated Press.

What have LGBTQ+ advocates said about the legislation?

Chasten Buttigieg, author and husband of secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg, criticized the bill on Twitter, maintaining that its measures “will kill kids” and that Governor DeSantis is making Florida “a harder place for LGBTQ kids to survive in.” In his tweet, Buttigieg referenced a nationwide survey conducted by the Trevor Project — an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis prevention organization — that reported more than 42 percent of LGBTQ youth “seriously considered attempting suicide” in 2021.

In an interview with CNN on January 25, Buttigieg questioned the state’s motives: “What kind of state are you building where you’re essentially pushing kids back into the closet, you’re saying we can’t talk about you. We can’t even talk about your families.”

“This bill will erase young LGBTQ students across Florida, forcing many back into the closet by policing their identity and silencing important discussions about the issues they face,” Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, said in a statement on January 20. Additional research from The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ youth who learn about LGBTQ people and the issues facing their community in school had 23 percent lower odds of attempting suicide.

On Monday, March 7, students and demonstrators protested outside the Florida State Capitol building in Tallahassee, chanting, "We say gay."

"When you come to our schools to instill hate, bigotry, and fear, we will stand up, speak up, and fight back. Our passion knows no distance and we will never be silenced!," Maxx Fenning, president and founder of LGBTQ+ advocacy organization PRISM, said at the demonstration, per ABC News.

That same day, more than 500 students at Winter Park High School in Orange County, Florida, staged a peaceful walkout to protest the discriminatory bill.

Charlee Coora Disney, an heir to The Walt Disney Company, publicly came out as transgender at a gala for the Human Rights Campaign in March, per The Los Angeles Times. Charlee, 30, pledged $250,000 to the advocacy organization, an amount that their parents, Roy P. Disney (the great nephew of Walt Disney and grandson of Disney co-founder, Roy ) and Sheri Disney, doubled. In conversation with the outlet, Charlee explained why they're now taking a stand: "I feel like I don’t do very much to help. I don’t call senators or take action. I felt like I could be doing more," they said. In recalling their childhood and experiences growing up in Florida, they shared, "I had very few openly gay role models. And I certainly didn’t have any trans or nonbinary role models. I didn’t see myself reflected in anyone, and that made me feel like there was something wrong with me."

Charlee condemned the state's "Don't Say Gay" bill, citing the high rates of depression, anxiety, bullying, and suicide among LGBTQ+ youth: "Then to put something like this law on top of that? They can’t learn about their community and their history at school, or play sports or use the bathroom they want to use?"

Their criticism of the bill comes after The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek faced backlash for his lackluster response to the legislation, per NBC News. As the bill advanced through the legislature, Chapek decided to not make a statement, and rather, wanted to keep the company out of politics — but his decision backfired and after the "Don't Say Gay" bill was passed on March 8, Chapek issued an apology to LGBTQ+ employees. "You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down," he wrote in a letter to staff on March 11, per Deadline.

But in an open letter and petition, Disney employees wrote that Chapek's response "utterly failed to match the magnitude of the threat to LGBTQIA+ safety represented by this legislation." Organizers planned and carried out a full walkout from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., or whenever an employee's shift began and ended, on March 22.

On Tuesday, March 22, the cast of Disney Channel's Raven's Home and more Disney employees walked out in protest of the company's response to the legislation.

"In support of our cast, crew, writing staff and the entire #LGBTQIA community, we at @RavensHome are joining our @DisneyChannel family and walking out in protest of Florida’s #DontSayGay bill and Disney’s role in funding the politicians who wrote it," showrunner Scott Thomas wrote on Twitter.

Per Variety, on the day Gov. DeSantis signed the bill into law, Disney released a statement and vowed to help repeal the legislation: "Florida’s HB 1557, also known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, should never have passed and should never have been signed into law. Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country."

How can I help repeal this new law?

Equality Florida, an advocacy organization for LGBTQ+ rights, denounced the new law on Monday, March 28, and together with the Human Rights Campaign, has promised to fight for its repeal. You can donate to the organization here, or if you're in Florida, you can apply to be a volunteer here.

In a post published on January 21, the organization wrote: “This bill will have devastating real-world consequences — especially for LGBTQ youth who already experience higher rates of bullying and suicide. Lawmakers should be providing more support for these students instead of trying to force LGBTQ people back into the closet by policing identity or stopping kids from talking about their same-sex parents.”

David Hogg, a founder of March for Our Lives, said on Twitter that youth protests are essential in stopping this legislation in other states: "If we are going to stop the don't say gay bill from spreading to other states we are going to need some of the largest youth protests and organizing in Florida's history from now until election day."

Celebrities such as Shawn Mendes have posted ways individuals can help protest. In a Tweet on Monday, March 7, he linked to the Florida State Senate directory page and wrote, "Florida, call your senators! #LetFreeFloridaSayGay." You can use the #LetFreeFloridaSayGay hashtag to voice your support and raise awareness about repealing this dangerous and damaging new law.

Make your voice heard and ensure that you're registered to vote — midterm elections take place on Tuesday, November 8, 2022. Visit Vote.gov to register to vote in your state, check registration deadlines, and learn about voter ID requirements.

If you are a young LGBTQ+ person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call the Trevor Project Lifeline at 866-488-7386, or visit their website for more resources.

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