Disney V. DeSantis


Ron Desantis Media Kit

Governor Ron DeSantis standing at a podium (https://flgov.smugmug.com/Governor-Ron-DeSantis/2023/February/Rural-Broadband-Santa-Rosa-County/i-c2ztbTV/A)

Marjorie Smedley, Opinions Editor

It’s the unprecedented fight of the century; a forty-four-year old governor versus a multi-billion dollar corporation that’s created many delights for children and adults. It’s Disney versus DeSantis in Florida, and as of this moment, it’s the House of Mouse that’s in the lead.

How did this happen? How did Disney, one of the sole reasons Florida is a tourist destination, get into a fight with a governor they’ve donated $100,000 to, and $190k to the Florida Republican party? And why is DeSantis, someone who is rumored to launch a presidential campaign any day now, starting fights with the one corporation that could tank his hopes and aspirations before they could begin?

For that answer, you’ve got to travel back all the way back to Florida in March 2022, when DeSantis introduced the incredibly controversial “Don’t Say Gay,” or Florida’s HB 1557 bill to his state.

MARCH 8 2022

“Don’t Say Gay,” or the Parental Rights in Education bill as it is formally known, forbids instruction from teachers and third-parties about the LGBTQ community through kindergarten to third grade. DeSantis and other GOP members explained the bill as preventing children from learning about topics that were “inappropriate” for them.

The bill states that “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.”

The wording of this law made it so that children of same-sex parents, or LGBTQ teachers could be penalized for simply mentioning an aspect of their lives, which sparked fiery criticism from teachers, students and parents. However, Disney remained silent, refusing to comment even when pressed. This itself sparked outrage from critics, with people calling on one of the largest corporations in Florida to comment. But it didn’t.

MARCH 28 2022

Right before the bill was signed by DeSantis in 2022, Disney said in a released statement.“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 Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that.”

Immediately after that, DeSantis criticized them in a press conference, calling their statement “crossing the line” for the apparent overreach of a business criticizing a law.

APRIL 2022

DeSantis and his allies in the Florida Legislature, which has a Republican supermajority, looked at ways to hurt Disney for its criticism and decided on looking at repealing the Reedy Creek district. The Reedy Creek District Improvement Act, which was passed in 1967, allowed Disney to tax itself and act as its own county government. DeSantis repealed the special district on April 25, signing a bill into law that abolished special districts in the state, effectively stripping Disney of being able to operate as a county government.
February 2023

DeSantis looked to further strip Disney of its autonomy and give more power of its district over to the government by appointing his own board to oversee the district. However, Disney had another trick up its sleeve. On February 8th, 2023, the outgoing Reedy Creek supervisors slipped one by and signed a new agreement with Disney, one that essentially granted all power over the district to Disney and stripped any power that the supervisors and the future Board of Governors had over Disney.

Hilariously, this gave Disney complete control until 21 years after the death of the last descendant of King Charles of England. However, even though this was done through legal channels, it was not discovered until after the Board had taken over. As they have discovered, the Board had no power over Disney, which meant that the legal action taken against the Reedy Creek district was rendered meaningless.

March 2023
This was only discovered by the new board, which was composed of DeSantis donors and conservative activists, at the end of March. As such, the newly-appointed board was now meaningless and Disney still managed to maintain some of the control of its District.

April 2023

To nobody’s surprise, the newly discovered deal did not go over well with DeSantis.

DeSantis pledged to find a way around the new legal agreement. The Board then found an agreement that allowed Disney control of their own facilities. DeSantis threatened to do something with the land outside of the theme park, such as building affordable housing or building a federal prison. Disney followed that up with announcing “Pride Nite,” a Disneyland experience specifically for the LGBTQ+ community that takes place in June. Finally, DeSantis’ board declared the agreement that gave Disney complete control of their district void.

Disney has filed suit, armed with a boatload of lawyers and a fairly passive-aggressive lawsuit.

May 2023

The special district has countersued in state court, asking the court to overturn the special agreements that had been made prior, because nobody really knows who has control of Disney’s district after all of this back and forth. Is it Disney? Is it DeSantis? Is it the alligator that lives in the lake? Probably, but nobody knows.

But in all, this is heavily ironic for a number of reasons.

For one, Disney is one of the main tourist attractions in Florida. There are about three reasons people go to Florida: the beach, Miami and Disney World. To even attempt to destabilize one of the biggest employers in Florida is fairly risky, considering just how much Disney contributes to tourism.

For two, Disney certainly isn’t leading the way in social justice. From the multiple “the first-ever gay character in a Disney movie” headlines to the useless attempts at to stop the flood of racism that was directed toward Star Wars actors like John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran to the fact that the first MCU movie that didn’t have a white main character, “Black Panther,”debuted in 2017. The first MCU movie that had a female main character was “Captain Marvel”, which debuted in 2019. The MCU was started in 2008. Disney is not winning any awards in social justice here.

For three, DeSantis got married to his wife at Disney. This is more funny than ironic, mostly because Disney was good enough for DeSantis to get married back then, but not when it directly criticizes him. Disney isn’t a place to remember happily, it’s a place you really love as a kid, and then dread going to when you have kids. I threw up in the Epcot golf ball, that’s what you’re supposed to remember.

And to be clear, Disney is not the good guy here either. The only reason Disney waded into this fight in the first place was because it wasn’t economic to stay out of it, and the only reason they are still in it is because DeSantis wouldn’t let it go. After all, Disney has given money to DeSantis and his allies before. To say that Disney is doing this on the behalf of the LGBTQ community is to make a mistake in trusting a corporation that would turn against them the moment it wasn’t good economically for them anymore.

However, even though Disney is far from the hero of the story, DeSantis fits into the shape of a fairy-tale villain like a key into a lock. Despite having presidential aspirations, DeSantis has decided to pick a fight with Disney, who has humiliated him at every turn. Though it is true that DeSantis has not yet entered the presidential race, he may not even be able to enter the race if he gets so beaten into the dirt by Disney that he can’t get up. Even now, some Florida politicians and donors are distancing themselves from DeSantis, such as billionaire GOP donor Thomas Peterffy, who is putting his donations for DeSantis on hold. Disney is most likely to win this battle; DeSantis does not have the money nor backing to go up against a corporation that has lived in Florida for longer than he’s been alive. Whether he’s able to run for president after this is another question, and if he’ll have the support to do so is an even murkier question.

Despite this, the Florida board of education has expanded the “Don’t Say Gay” law to K-12 just last month, which now forbids high schoolers from having any discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity, which leaves LGBTQ high schoolers alone and ostracized in one of main places they should be allowed to feel safe. It doesn’t just stop at high school, as DeSantis has taken over New College in Florida, a LGBTQ-friendly liberal arts public university, replacing the previous board with conservative activists who almost immediately stripped the college of the diversity, equity and inclusion office and fired the school’s president. This is in addition to the bill that’s currently making its way through the Florida legislature that threatens to forbid colleges from using funds for programs that include diversity, equity and inclusion, which can eliminate majors such as gender studies.

But where does that leave us, as we sit almost four hours from the border, watching this battle play out? Why should we care about this at all?

Some of us are eligible to vote. Some of us are members of the LGBTQ community. Some of us have friends and family in Florida. And all of us have witnessed, whether we’re watching the news or hearing about it on social media, how fast laws like “Don’t Say Gay” spread across the country. Regardless of personal beliefs, the fact that the government has the power to dictate what schools shouldn’t and should be teaching is a terrifying fact. What is considered “appropriate” for children to learn about? Not periods and puberty, according to one state legislator. Not Ruby Bridges, the first African-American to attend a segregated school, according to one Florida parent. Not books that allow children to find a world beyond them, as bookshelves are shut off for fear of punishment from the government. For today, it’s them. The next day, it’s you.