Disney has landed in the culture war crosshairs. Conservative activists and politicians have set their sights on the entertainment giant, urging boycotts of theme parks and media and threatening business operations in response to the company’s stance on LGBTQ issues.
It’s not the first time that the entertainment giant has found itself in this position. And if the past repeats itself, the bark will likely be worse than the bite.
After Disney spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education law that prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in lower elementary school grades, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) attacked the company, saying it “crossed the line” with its criticism. Lawmakers at the state and national level have taken aim at the company’s unique tax status in Florida, home to its largest theme park, and its Mickey Mouse copyright.
Pushback from conservatives escalated when internal Disney videos obtained by an activist showed employees discussing efforts to add more representation of LGBTQ+ characters.
Adding fuel to the fireworks: the rediscovery by conservatives that announcements before pyrotechnic shows no longer addressed visitors as “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls” but rather “Dreamers of all ages.” Several media outlets reported last summer that the change was part of a diversity effort.
In recent weeks, a chorus has joined DeSantis in criticizing the company, which brings millions of visitors to its four theme parks and more than two dozen resorts in the state each year. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) urged people to cancel their trips to the parks in a campaign update headlined “I AM DONE WITH DISNEY!” Protests have formed around Disney properties in California and Florida, including one Saturday at Disney World in Orlando that featured a costumed mouse wearing a red “Make America Great Again” hat.
The most famous backlash came in the late 1990s, when the Southern Baptist Convention voted to boycott Disney over LGBT issues, including Ellen DeGeneres coming out as a lesbian on her ABC show, the annual “Gay Days” event at Disney World organized by outsiders and the company’s extension of health benefits to partners of LGBTQ workers.
In 1997, the first year of the boycott and part of Disney World’s 25th anniversary celebration, attendance at the signature Magic Kingdom park grew by 3 million, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Combined attendance at the Florida parks hit records through 2000, according to an Orlando Sentinel report on industry estimates. The boycott ended in 2005.