Apr 5, 2022

The Disney controversy.

The Disney controversy.

A look at what is causing so much debate.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 12 minutes.

We're covering the controversy around Disney. We're skipping our reader question today to give this story some extra space.


Quick hits.

  1. Sens. Mitt Romney and Lisa Murkowski said they'd support Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court nomination, becoming the second and third Republicans to say they'd vote for her. Jackson is expected to be confirmed later this week. (The support)
  2. Senate negotiators say they've struck a deal on another $10 billion coronavirus aid package that will not include billions of dollars to fund a global vaccination push. (The bill)
  3. President Biden called Vladimir Putin a war criminal after new images surfaced of dead civilians killed in the Ukrainian city of Bucha. (The allegations)
  4. Twitter announced it will appoint Elon Musk to its board a day after the company said Musk bought a 9.2% stake in the company. (The announcement)
  5. GOP Rep. Fred Upton (MI), one of the longest-tenured Republicans in Congress, has decided to retire. (The retirement)

Our 'Quick Hits' section is created in partnership with Ground News, a website and app that rates the bias of news coverage and news outlets.

Today's topic.

The Disney controversy. There are two threads to this story, so we will try to flesh them both out properly. The first thread is Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill by critics, which we covered here and here. The most controversial part of the legislation bans all classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade, and some instruction later on if it is “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” It also requires schools to tell parents if their child is seeking school counseling. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s press secretary Christina Pushaw referred to it as “the Anti-Grooming Bill.”

The bill's passage was an important moment for Disney, given its deep ties to Florida. The Orlando theme park alone employs some 80,000 workers. It is also a major political lobbyist in the state. It donated $4.8 million to Florida lawmakers in the 2020 cycle, 80% of which went to Republicans. But Disney has often lobbied for and against bills Democrats support or oppose — which left many Democrats surprised and upset when Disney fomented very little opposition to the legislation as it made its way up to Gov. DeSantis's desk. It also left many Disney workers — who take pride in the company's inclusive LGBTQ-friendly culture — enraged at CEO Bob Chapek's tepid response.

This resulted in several internal company protests, including staff walkouts at the park, all of which culminated in Chapek sending a note to Disney workers. He told them that corporate statements do little to change minds or outcomes and the company was re-assessing its political donations. Chapek then called Gov. DeSantis to voice his opposition, and when that didn’t work, paused all Disney donations to Florida politicians. He then told workers, “I missed the mark in this case but am an ally you can count on.” DeSantis responded by calling Disney “woke” and pledging there was "zero" chance he wouldn't sign the bill. He signed it a few days later.

In the midst of this controversy, a second thread emerged: In a company wide Zoom call, Karey Burke, president of Disney's General Entertainment Content, said that "as the mother of two queer children" she intended to ramp up queer visibility in Disney productions. She expressed a desire to have more Disney characters that are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (or questioning), intersex, and asexual (or allies) — often referred to as LGBTQIA. Disney's website, meanwhile, promised that 50% of regular and recurring characters across Disney would come from underrepresented groups.

Another employee, Latoya Raveneau, spoke in the meeting about her "not at all secret gay agenda" as an executive producer where she gets to add "queerness" to some animated shows she directs. Raveneau directs a revival of a show The Proud Family that now includes both a openly gay friend of the main character who deals with bullying, as well as another character who has gay male parents.

Burke and Raveneau's comments along with the pledge on the website were elevated by conservative activist Christopher Rufo, who added allegations that Disney employees had an insidious record of sexual crimes, sparking a campaign to boycott Disney in conservative circles. Many parents expressed the fear that Disney was trying to "indoctrinate" their children.

As a result of these two controversies, a lot of ink was spilled about Disney's response to the Florida bill, Rufo's allegations about Disney, and the push to boycott the company.

Below, we're going to take a look at some reactions to these two story threads from the right and left. Then my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right is calling for folks to quit Disney, saying it has succumbed to "wokeness."
  • Some warn that Disney's programming is trying to indoctrinate children into being LGBTQ+.
  • Others say Disney is in a lose-lose position, either stuck upsetting its employees or risking upsetting Florida parents and lawmakers.

Kristan Hawkins, the president of the pro-life group Students for Life of America, said "I'm a mom and I'm saying goodbye to Disney."

"Disney has now transformed into a political propaganda machine that grooms children for abortions and sexual promiscuity—and nothing showcases their regression into a progressive pumpkin better than their new movie. 'Turning Red,' rated PG, is the story of a thirteen-year-old girl named Mei who inherits her family’s curse to become a red panda whenever she feels passionate emotions, including sexual tension, which feels wildly inappropriate in a movie targeting young children like mine," Hawkins wrote. "The adults at Disney create a storyline for the young main character and her fictional friends around their attraction [to] an older boy... It’s even more appalling when Mei begins to draw this boy in what [the] 'Turning Red' YouTube account calls 'dirty drawings.'

"The abortion lobby gets in on the action in the very end when Mei goes out with her panda tail and ears on display. When her mother disapproves, Mei apes the abortion lobby’s signature and sinister catchphrase as she says, 'My panda, my choice,'" Hawkins wrote. "It doesn’t seem coincidental that as this movie projects sexuality into children’s thoughts, Disney is also engaging in a campaign for politicized sex education in its home state. Disney recently spoke out in opposition to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, which would prohibit the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades Kindergarten to Third... The LGBTQ+ community has already been featured multiple times in Disney productions... For parents who proactively monitor what their child is viewing, it’s likely time to say goodbye to today’s Disney if you want to protect your children from the grooming tactics of the left. We’re not dealing with Mickey Mouse anymore."

In National Review, Alexandra DeSanctis said Disney is trying to play to its disgruntled employees.

"One such concession to wokeism appears to be preparing to cram sexualized content into children’s programming. 'If we can’t get them in the classroom, we’ll get them at the movie theater,' or something," she said. "In several leaked videos, Disney executives pledged to depict more 'transgender and gender-nonconforming' characters in their films — or 'queer leads,' as one higher-up put it. In the same vein, they aim to erase all references to 'ladies and gentlemen' and 'boys and girls' at Disney parks... The company, in short, finds itself engaged in a game it simply cannot win.

"On one side is some number of its own employees — we do not even know if it’s a majority or simply a very loud faction — berating the company for not 'doing enough' to stop this law, as if Disney had been elected to run the state of Florida," DeSanctis wrote. "On the other side is Florida’s government, its vocal governor who is insusceptible to bullies, and — important to note — some not insignificant portion of its customers. It is hard to imagine that, even if some number of parents opposes Florida’s legislation, most parents are hoping Disney’s children’s movies will respond to the law by featuring more sexual themes and “queer leads.” What’s more, polling suggests that most American parents actually don’t oppose Florida’s law at all. When presented with the actual text of the legislation — as opposed to merely being told about it by the pollster — 61 percent of Americans say they support it."

In The New York Post, Karol Markowicz said Disney is "brainwashing" kids into gender theory.

"On Tuesday, Christopher Rufo, known for his exposés on schools and corporations under the spell of critical race theory, released internal Disney videos in which those in charge discuss how they insert the 'not-at-all-secret gay agenda' into children’s programming. Those were the words used by Disney Television Animation executive producer Latoya Raveneau, who said she is 'adding queerness' wherever she can — with Disney’s blessing, as the company is 'going hard' to be supportive. The shocking footage also featured Disney Parks’ diversity and inclusion manager, Vivian Ware, saying the company has 'removed all of the gendered greetings' at its theme parks.

"Until wokeness overtook it, Disney could be counted on for safely age-appropriate entertainment," Markowicz wrote. "But why should parents continue to trust a company that is putting this kind of brainwashing into children’s entertainment? Why should kids be getting any sort of gender-identity lesson in school or at a theme park? And why should Disney be in the business of sexualizing kids in any direction?... What Disney doesn’t understand is that pushing gender dysphoria onto ever younger children will never be popular among the very people who make up Disney’s core audience: families. Parents don’t want their small children being introduced to the idea that they may have been born into the wrong body. Children are extremely susceptible to suggestion, and parents don’t want their kids told their gender is malleable. They certainly do not want outside forces instructing their children on gender identity."

What the left is saying.

  • The left says conservatives are creating false outrage that endangers already marginalized communities.
  • Some say Disney actually has a history of treating its LGTBQ employees poorly.
  • Others call out the hypocrisy of Republicans who call on Florida's government to punish a corporation for asserting its political stance.

Michelle Goldberg wrote about the right's "Disney freak out" and how she felt bad for Latoya Raveneau, whose comments about adding queerness to Disney shows are now being framed as her grooming kids.

"Rufo obtained video of the all-hands meeting, and he presented clips of Raveneau’s remarks, along with those of several other Disney executives, as evidence that Disney is sexualizing children. The story has blown up on the right, where Raveneau’s arch reference to a gay agenda is being treated as an admission that she has a plan to corrupt kids," Golberg wrote. "Raveneau has landed in the middle of a renascent moral panic, one that combines elements of QAnon with old tropes about gay predators... Now, a new wave of legislation is targeting what teachers can say about L.G.B.T.Q. issues. As PEN America reported, the fight against critical race theory 'has primed the public to support sweeping censorship of classroom speech. For anti-L.G.B.T.Q.+ activists, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity, a chance to ram through bills that are far more restrictive than anything the public would normally accept.'

"This is, of course, not the first time that gay and gender-nonconforming people have been framed as a moral threat to children," Goldberg wrote. "In 1977, Anita Bryant, a former beauty queen and spokeswoman for the Florida Citrus Commission, started the anti-gay Save Our Children campaign. 'Homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit,' she said. 'And to freshen their ranks, they must recruit the youth of America.' In recent years, the Republican Party has largely eschewed such language, appearing to make their peace with the presence of gays, lesbians and transgender people in public life. Now such rhetoric is back, and it’s potentially explosive."

Alex Abad-Santos said Disney's decision not to fight against the "Don't Say Gay" bill "wasn't the first time it betrayed its LGBTQ fans."

"The current controversy has illuminated the disconnect between one of the world’s biggest companies and its very devoted fanbase, which includes large numbers of devoted LGBTQ fans," Abad-Santos said. "Disney has parlayed the feel-good, empowering message of its movies to position itself as a progressive, diverse, inclusive, and highly profitable company. Its inaction in Florida paints a different, perhaps more realistic picture that this company isn’t living up to the promises it’s trading on. And it’s far from the first time the company has fallen short on queer issues. For Disney’s LGBTQ fans and employees, it’s a betrayal that can’t even come as a surprise.

"When it comes to supporting its LGBTQ fanbase and its employees, Disney conducts itself in a similarly understated fashion," Abad-Santos said. "It’s only recently that Disney has begun to create out LGBTQ characters, like the lesbian cyclops cop in 2020’s Onward. Audiences who watched the movie found out that the one-eyed law enforcement officer was queer because she mentions that she has an (unseen) girlfriend. Some critics said that character was more of a hollow pander than a genuine effort at creating its 'first animated LGBTQ character.' Berg explained that these small actions have allowed queer fans to forget about how Disneyland once had a policy that prohibited same-sex dancing, ultimately struck down by the Orange County Superior Court in 1984, or that a gay executive filed a sexual orientation discrimination suit against the company in 2021. Disney’s stance on 'Don’t Say Gay' and its alignment with Florida’s anti-gay lawmakers was a reminder that the company isn’t as progressive as it says it is.”

Greg Sargent said Ron DeSantis's "repulsive" war on Disney will face a reckoning.

"A big question is whether DeSantis will seek to revoke Disney’s state tax incentives as a weapon in the war over that measure, which opponents call the 'Don’t Say Gay' law," Sargent asked. "If so, that could alienate Republicans who are fine with a bit of performative culture-warring but want to keep corporations happy where it really counts, i.e., on their bottom line. If not, that could disappoint right-wingers who actively want Republicans to wield state power wherever possible to bring 'woke' corporations to their knees.

"Yet here’s the thing: Some on the right, particularly the new nationalists seeking to build a post-Trump Trumpism, actually do believe the state should be weaponized to fight the culture wars as aggressively as possible. Fox News’s Laura Ingraham is urging Republicans to use every tool of government possible to break corporations economically — as a weapon of retaliation against excessive wokeness. It’s sometimes said that Republicans are turning against large corporations in a fundamental shift of economic ideology. But that’s mostly nonsense," Sargent said. "Republicans have mainly threatened retaliation for corporate transgressions such as standing up for African Americans’ voting rights, trying to protect customers and workers with vaccine mandates, cooperating with a congressional investigation into Trump’s insurrection, and now, speaking up for LGBT people."

My take.

The Oxford definition for moral panic seems pertinent at the moment: "A mass movement based on the false or exaggerated perception that some cultural behavior or group of people is dangerously deviant and poses a threat to society's values and interests."

I'm not really sure how else to describe what I'm witnessing.

Look, I've written about Florida's Parental Rights in Education bill. I've written about critical race theory and Republican efforts to legislate it out of classrooms. I’ve written about trans youth and gender dysphoria. If you've been reading this newsletter for more than a couple of weeks, you know where I stand: I think these bills are silly, overly broad, and potentially dangerous, and they amount to the very kind of government control many conservatives often claim to be so worried about. Plenty of readers have argued about my positions, and we even dedicated an entire special edition to the totally valid point that this is not really a right vs. left issue on the ground (because among parents, plenty of liberals share the same concerns about critical race theory and LGTBQ classroom material). I've already addressed all of that a few times.

Here's what I'll say about this Disney controversy, though: I think it is once again exposing a lot of hypocrisy on the right.

For the last two decades, conservatives have been proudly fighting for the right of corporations to have a larger influence in politics; now some are insisting DeSantis punish Disney economically with tools of the government for simply stating opposition to the Florida bill (they didn’t even lobby against it).

Conservatives constantly hammer the left about "cancel culture," and now they're trying to cancel — of all things — Disney. Conservatives constantly talk about free speech issues, but seem totally unperturbed when the government actually tries to limit speech in classrooms. Conservatives (rightly) hammer the left for baseless accusations of racism or bigotry, but many now baselessly accuse anyone who opposes Florida's "Don't Say Gay" bill of being groomers, or child predators (when I wrote about my opposition to the Florida parental rights bill in Tangle, I received this accusation multiple times).

None of what Disney has been doing is actually that big of a deal. Christopher Rufo, the conservative activist whose work I have elevated a few times in this newsletter, seems to be driving most of these conversations. He also seems to be veering further and further into hackery every day. This was best illustrated by his most recent viral tweet alleging that "Disney has had employees arrested for child sex crimes in 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022—in other words, at least once a year for the past decade." This, I guess, is supposed to be proof that Disney is coming for your kids.

Of course, Disney employs some 190,000 people. A stark reality in America is that among any group of 190,000 people, many will be criminals. Some will commit sex crimes. I'm certain I could do the exact same exercise for Walmart or police officers or college athletes or any other major group of people that exists in the hundreds of thousands and come up with similar results. This was best illustrated by journalist Michael Kruse, who pointed out that Republican politicians and staffers have also been arrested for or charged with sex crimes every year since 2012.

Funny that Rufo is not investigating that.

Even Rufo's framing of Disney's pledge to make 50% of regular and recurring characters come from underrepresented groups is misleading. That’s because anywhere between 9% and 12% of youth identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual, while children of color are almost certainly now a majority in the U.S. (read: more than 50%!) So if Disney were to make its characters 50% from traditionally underrepresented groups... that'd basically be representative of youth in America today. This isn't ‘wokeism,’ and it’s definitely not grooming (more on that below). It's an entertainment company that is trying to make its characters more representative of the children who comprise its audience.

And that's just it: The criticism of Disney continues to conflate "wokeism" — the process of "waking up" to social injustices — with some kind of anti-Christian, anti-conservative, anti-traditional American value system. It presupposes that the cultural demographics and worldview of the parents — not the youth — is who Disney should be playing to.

It calls opponents of a piece of controversial legislation "groomers," the action a pedophile takes to prepare a child for a meeting, especially via an internet chat room, with the intention of committing a sexual offense. The term is so badly misapplied that it’s tough to see it as anything other than a dog whistle to the QAnon conspiracy theories.

Disney’s inclusivity pledges framed as “grooming” or the criminal records of a few employees presented as representative of the company as a whole don't actually tell meaningful stories about Disney. They are tactics of conflation meant to distort the truth and to create the moral panic we're witnessing now, meant to make people scared of Disney and LGBTQ folks and teachers and "wokeism" in a visceral way. And I think it is incredibly irresponsible.

Is some Disney programming overtly political? Of course. Does some Disney programming feel inappropriate for kids? Yes (though, it should be noted, a lot of the fuss is about PG — parental guidance — movies). Have Disney employees committed gut-wrenching crimes? Yes. Rufo has documented many of them. Has Disney tried to cover some of those crimes up? Almost certainly. It is, after all, a giant corporation with a brand and reputation to protect, and that's what they all do. Should we tread carefully in how we present issues of gender identity to children? Yup. I’ve written about that repeatedly.

But are Disney employees trying to systematically groom children? Are they trying to “convert” them to become gay? Or trans? Or overly sexualized? I find the suggestion absurd, and frankly offensive. Is Disney an overtly liberal or progressive company? I’m not so sure. Perhaps their programming has skewed “progressive” in recent years, it certainly seems that way, but the company works both sides of the aisle and — as has been widely reported — has spent most of their capital in Florida supporting Republicans, not Democrats, almost certainly for the obvious corporate benefits that brings them. They create content and lobby for bills to help their bottom line, plain and simple. As Rufo readily admits, this is all about punishing Disney for publicly opposing the legislation in Florida. He said it openly: “Perhaps the lesson that they’re learning — and certainly the lesson that they should be learning — is that they should stay out of politics," he told The Times.

Does that mean the lesson must be given, at all costs? Is our country not divided and hateful enough, must we now insinuate that Democrats are pedophiles? Are the lives of gay teachers or trans teenagers not complicated or challenging enough, must we now frame them as "groomers" who want to "convert" children? Is being an underpaid, understaffed and overworked educator not hard enough, must we now hang the threat of lawsuits over their heads for mentioning sexual orientation or systemic racism?

There's no good outcome here. It's just one more step down our descending trail of culture war hate and generalization being used to tear the country apart — all for the cause of "punishing" a company that shares the views of millions of Americans and millions of Floridians about a controversial piece of legislation. It’s an ugly, fear-mongering political no-win playbook that is only further eroding our already broken political discourse.

Have thoughts about "my take?" You can reply to this email and write in or leave a comment if you're a subscriber.

A story that matters.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Brooklyn man who said he had been falsely accused by police officers of resisting arrest. He wants to sue the officers for malicious prosecution under a federal civil rights law, and the Court voted 6-3 in his favor. The man, Larry Thompson, sued the officers under Section 1983, which allows citizens to sue state officials for violations of their constitutional rights. "The ruling was narrow and incremental, and Justice Kavanaugh noted that it left police officers with other ways to defeat 'unwarranted civil suits,' notably including qualified immunity, the doctrine that requires plaintiffs to show not only that the officer had violated a constitutional right but also that the right had been 'clearly established' in a previous ruling," The New York Times reports. Still, it was a significant win that will change the precedent for how civilians can fight unlawful arrests and charges, even if a conviction doesn't take place.


  • $20 million. The amount of money Disney donated in the 2020 election cycle alone.
  • $1.2 million. The amount that went to Joe Biden.
  • $656,000. The amount that went to the RNC.
  • $913,000. The amount of money Disney donated directly to the Republican party of Florida.
  • $313,000. The amount of money Disney donated to Democratic party of Florida.
  • $586,000. The amount of money Disney donated to GOP Senate campaigns.
  • $50,000. The amount of money Disney donated directly to Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • $100,000. The amount of money Disney has given to the Friends of Ron DeSantis PAC.

Have a nice day.

Israel is launching a unique new program to give free public transportation to anyone over the age of 75. Israel's Minister of Transport Merav Michaeli just unveiled the program, which gives a 50% discount to those aged 60-74, 5-18, or those with disabilities; and free transportation to anyone under 5 or over 75. The goal of the 'Equal Commute' reform is to encourage Israelis to use public transportation, Michaeli said, which she hopes will "get us out of traffic, reduce accidents on the roads and help us with our climate crisis goals." The Jerusalem Post has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.