The Walt Disney Company and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Battle Over LGBTQ Rights

Category Business

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The battle between The Walt Disney Co. and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over LGBTQ rights has sparked an alliance between progressives and the entertainment giant due to Disney's lawsuit against the governor. Disney's lawsuit is based on the Citizens United v. FEC ruling which established the right for corporations to influence politics, a move progressives oppose due to the amount of money it unleashes. Disney has expanded their mission to promote diversity and inclusion, and the statement released by them which caused the dispute showed their support for the LGBTQ movement.

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The battle between The Walt Disney Co. and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over LGBTQ rights and whether those rights should be acknowledged – let alone taught – in schools has spurred an unlikely alliance between progressives and one of the world’s biggest entertainment companies.

Progressive groups such as The Human Rights Campaign have welcomed Disney to their cause, while progressive columnists at The Daily Beast and MSNBC have cheered Disney’s recent lawsuit against DeSantis. The suit, filed in April 2023, alleges that DeSantis violated the company’s free speech rights by retaliating against Disney for opposing a Florida education law that would prevent teachers from instructing early grades on LGBTQ issues.

The Walt Disney Company has long lobbied Congress and other government bodies for their own interests.

DeSantis has decried Disney as a "woke" company and sought to punish the media conglomerate by stripping the company of its powers to control development in and around Disney World in Orlando.

While joining forces with corporations to achieve political ends can be advantageous, given their tremendous resources, it also poses risks for progressives, who may suffer setbacks when their principles no longer align with corporate profits. Just look at how quickly Bud Light backed away from a transgender social media influencer promoting the beer when conservatives threatened boycotts and sales slipped. Before the backlash, a top marketing executive had said the brand needed to become more inclusive; afterward Bud Light said it would focus marketing on sports and music.

The Supreme Court case of Citizens United v. FEC established that corporations have the right to influence politics and elections.

I am a professor of political science who studies corporate political rights and the role corporations play in the public square. Disney v. DeSantis raises questions of how advocates of free speech and democracy should approach a situation when a corporation joins their side.

Power to persuade .

Business interests have long tried to influence public policy, even before the landmark Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. FEC lifted restrictions on corporate spending on elections. Corporations spend billions of dollars each year to lobby Congress and billions more lobbying state legislators. They finance think tanks and foundations that promote their views and interests. They place "advertorials" in local newspapers’ op-ed pages.

The Florida education law will prevent teachers from teaching about LGBTQ issues in elementary and middle schools.

Citizens United, decided in 2010, cemented corporations’ right to participate in politics. The high court ruled that political spending amounts to protected speech, and governments cannot infringe on corporations’ right to free speech by limiting the money companies can spend to influence voters through advertising and other means.

Progressives have blasted the decision for unleashing torrents of corporate cash that they say is corrupting the political system.

In 2021, Bud Light was forced to back away from a transgender influencer promoting their brand when sales decreased.

Ironically – at least for progressives – Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis is based in part on the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling and the free speech rights it established for corporations. In the statement that caused trouble with DeSantis, Disney showed itself a reasonable partner for advocates of LGBTQ rights.

The statement went beyond just criticizing the legislation. Disney vowed to help overturn the law, which critics derided as "Don’t say gay." .

Disney has a clear mission statement of promoting diversity and inclusion.

"Our mission is to promote diversity and inclusion in our policies, practices, programs and workplace," the statement said. "We strongly oppose this legislation because it would decrease the availability of inclusive education and limit the capacity of teachers and school counselors to support many of Florida's students. We, along with many in the business community, will continue to advocate for an inclusive Florida and support the efforts to repeal this legislation." .

The statement released by Disney is believed to have been the primary cause of the dispute with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

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