A group of Disney workers have taken action around trans and gay issues. The protest has involved 15 minute daily walkouts with a full day walkout on 22 March, as well as a website and twitter hashtags promoted by the corporate media.
The background is the Parental Rights in Education or “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida which, Fox News says, “bans Florida school employees or third parties from giving classroom instruction on ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’ in kindergarten through third grade.” The bill has been signed off by the right wing Republican Governor, Ron DeSantis, and is expected to come into effect on 1 July. Fox News says that “the White House has condemned the bill as ‘hateful,’ ‘horrific,’ and ‘a form of bullying.’ ‘Why are Florida leaders deciding they need to discriminate against kids who are members of the LGBTQI community?’ White House press secretary Jen Psaki said…. ‘What prompts them to do that? Is it meanness? Is it wanting to make kids have more difficult times in school, in their communities?’”
The staff walkouts are focused on Disney’s response to the bill.
It’s not that Disney bosses have shown any sympathy for it. Disney’s former CEO Bob Iger, who stepped down in 2020, “tweeted in support of President Joe Biden’s call against the bill in February. ‘I’m with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy’.” More generally, Disney has dropped its traditional “Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” welcome phrase, to “promote inclusivity”. The Guardian mentions “growing LGBTQ portrayals in films and TV shows and the selling of LGBTQ pride-themed merchandise at Disney stores.”
What the protestors object to is Disney’s tactical response to the bill, which did not involve explicit public opposition. Disney CEO Chapek told Disney shareholders that “instead of making an early public statement against the legislation, company officials had been working behind the scenes with politicians ‘to achieve a better outcome’”. “For weeks,” the New York Times said, “Disney lobbyists in Florida had been pressing to soften the legislation.” And in a memo staff on 7 March, The Guardian says, Chapek “cited ‘diverse stories’ such as Black Panther, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and the TV series Modern Family as ‘more powerful than any tweet or lobbying effort’, implying that Disney’s content speaks for itself.”
The protests forced Chapek onto the defensive. At the company’s recent annual shareholder meeting, he announced that Disney would be donating $5 million to LGTBQ groups. “I understand that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill,” he said. “I called Gov. DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender kids and families”. Disney itself has now formally expressed its opposition to the bill.
In ratty response Governor DeSantis said “Disney is in far too deep with the Communist Party of China and has lost any moral authority.” His press secretary Christina Pushaw tweeted that the bill “which liberals inaccurately call ‘don’t say gay’ would be more accurately described as an anti-grooming bill.’” But DeSantis has also portrayed his stand as a battle against the big end of town: “We will never allow corporate influence to repeal the substantive rights of parents in our state.” Meanwhile over 150 companies, including Marriott and American Airlines, have signed a Human Rights Campaign letter opposing the legislation.
The bosses and the establishment
Biden’s hostility to the Florida bill reflects the ruling class view that gender identity theory should be promoted not opposed, because it reinforces sexism and women’s oppression in the modern world. It should be inculcated early and often; the formative K-3 school years are ideal, presumably. Beyond that, the bosses and their neoliberal establishment give token support to identity politics in general, including gay rights, to relegitimise themselves in the era of austerity.
Governor DeSantis and his ilk represent the populist conservative wing of the establishment, whose leaders – like the Brexiteer media across the Atlantic – support capitalism to the hilt without endorsing all current views held by the actual capitalist class. They exploit and channel anger among ordinary people, linking identity politics to the neoliberal policies that have wrecked so many lives.
The conservative establishment has generally gone along with gender identity theory itself; its media have helped to normalize and mainstream it, for its value in helping to maintain sexism under modern conditions. But it has attacked the practical, logical extensions of this theory, including its dissemination in school programs: partly out of hostility to leftists involved in trans activism, partly to curry favour with conservative supporters who have never liked “gender identity”, and partly in the hope of winning feminists from their historical left or liberal allegiances. In the USA it has made more concessions to traditionalist forces than in Britain. It is of course contradictory to back the theory not the practice, but the conservative elite can live easily with such contradictions.
Disney is the biggest private sector employer in Florida and a not insignificant member of the ruling class. It fully supports big capital’s position on trans and on gays but has tried to accommodate the social conservative section of its audience, hence the preference for back-channel lobbying.
The Disney protestors are, in part, defending lesbian and gay rights. There is ample scope for developmentally appropriate discussion of lesbian and gay issues among children in the early school years: people can kiss, love, partner, settle down and rear children with members of the same sex. The protestors also want to push Disney’s support for same-sex rights beyond tokenism. They complain for example that “nearly every moment of overtly gay affection [in the company’s media productions] is cut at Disney’s behest.”
Alas, they are also helping to propagate the sexism of gender identity theory in the mistaken belief that this too is progressive.
It would be very appropriate to campaign against sex stereotypes – with most emphasis on freedom for females as the oppressed sex, including freedom from body-image miseries. That can also be taught in age appropriate ways. As a small part of this, children might be taught that females and males can live by the traditional rules and codes of the other sex, if they wish, within a range of much wider options.
That is not what trans curriculum packages are about. They are a world of pink and blue, sometimes half-concealed by talk of “fluidity” and “spectrums”, sometimes not. At most they offer room for handfuls of “gender non-conforming” cis-females who gratefully find shelter under the trans umbrella. The end result is this: it’s just fine if you’re a natural girly-girl, your femininity comes from deep within; most girls are born that way and stay so; the few who don’t fit are different and divided off from the rest of you. That is the main message, a reinforcement of sexism and women’s oppression. As collateral damage in this war against women, young, developing kids are taught to doubt their mind-body link – you might be a girl in a boy body or vice versa – preparing them for later affirmation of surgical and chemical mutilation.
Trans ideology, then, is a world away from the defence of same sex attraction. But the two issues are brought together by identity politics, and jammed closer by the attacks both causes face from the bigots.
Missing from all this is a powerful left anchored in the labour movement. A left that offers an alternative to both neoliberal tokenism and traditionalist bigotry. A left that throws off the fake progressivism of gender ideology and defends women, lesbians and gay men, and all those fighting to be free of sex stereotypes.