Disney Walkout Spurs In-Person Action in Burbank, Social Media Response From Disney Stars

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Employees across Disney’s various divisions participated in physical and virtual walkouts on Tuesday in a show of solidarity with Florida-based Disney workers, particularly castmembers and other parks employees.

On social media, workers at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California, have shared their own participation in the in-person protests, which kicked off officially at 8 a.m. PT. The voluntary walkout was organized by @DisneyWalkout and is running between the local hours of 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesday.

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Those same Burbank workers also marched around the perimeter at the company’s Burbank headquarters and could be heard chanting “Say Gay” — a response to Florida’s HB 1557 bill, a piece of anti-LGBTQ legislation that has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill due to its ban on classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. Employees from Lucasfilm and Pixar also shared photos of their participation in the action with the walkout organizers on Tuesday afternoon.

Employees at The Walt Disney Co.’s various divisions were encouraged ahead of Tuesday to participate either virtually or physically, depending on their level of employment protection and comfort level. Organizers cautioned TWDC employees who wanted to take part in a physical protest that it is not a legally protected action but gave instructions for LGBTQ employees and allies who did make the choice to participate to set specific email and Slack away messages indicating their support of the effort.

LGBTQ employees and allies who work at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Disney+, ABC Network, FX, ESPN, National Geographic, Hulu, Walt Disney Studios, Pixar Animation Studios, Marvel Studios, Lucasfilm, 20th Century Studios, Searchlight Pictures and more were invited to take part in today’s action.

A Disney employee who spoke on condition of anonymity told The Hollywood Reporter that some workers have gotten support within their divisions, with employees allowed to take the day “no questions asked” to participate.

Several actors, including Kerry Washington and Larry Wilmore, as well as some associated with ongoing Disney productions like Mark Ruffalo, also threw their support behind the walkouts online.

Employees who walked out additionally received support earlier in the week from ESPN anchors Carolyn Peck, Courtney Lyle and Elle Duncan during coverage of March Madness.

While the online support has been notable, a tweet posted less than a day ahead of the event by the walkout organizers alleged that Disneyland castmembers and parks employees “do not feel safe to fully walkout tomorrow” after being told they couldn’t wear Pride/trans Mickey Mouse pins to show solidarity and support for the action.

“This all happening while many sectors of the company have been internally supportive of employees walking out tomorrow,” the organizers tweeted. “Front-line workers, the most vulnerable of us, not given the respect they deserve is shameful.”

Disneyland has an existing dress and costume policy that is not amendable for a day or specific reason, THR confirmed.

Meanwhile, local reports indicate there has been minimal disruption to the parks in Florida, though the Disney Walkout Twitter account shared a photo indicating that some parks employees participated in a letter-writing campaign in support of LGBTQ youth off company grounds.

According to The Associated Press, because the walkout was not a protected legal action, parks employees were advised by their union leaders to not participate.

After THR reached out to the unions representing parks employees, a representative for SEIU-USWW, which represents members at Disneyland in California, told THR the union did not advise their members to not participate in the walkout and that “we absolutely support our members taking action to fight against discrimination and for social justice.”

While the number of people physically participating in total is unclear, the action has been receiving support all day from Disney workers and those outside the industry on social media through various hashtags, including #DisneyWalkout. Other workers showed solidarity by calling out or posting messages tied to their work communications.

A slew of solidarity statements were shared to the official social media accounts for Hulu, Disney+, ESPN, National Geographic, FX, Disney Parks, ABC Network Disney Cruise Line and others earlier in the day. A Disney employee who participated in the walkout told THR those statements reflect a shift in policy around social justice–related posting at the company.

Posts from Disney’s individual brands — which the source says was not an organized, preplanned action but “sprung organically” and was not discouraged by the parent company — have historically been “frowned upon” due to wanting to maintain an “overarching collective sentiment or none at all.”

This riled some of the company’s younger employees, who saw a contrasting approach at streaming services like Netflix and Amazon, the Disney employee told THR.

The Disney Walkout was announced just a day after Chapek told employees in a town hall on Monday that the organization’s annual leadership retreat planned for April would be postponed in light of current events. It also came just a few days after CEO Bob Chapek apologized in an internal memo to the company’s workers and committed to rethinking the company’s political funding while also pausing all political donations in the state for an undetermined amount of time.

“Speaking to you, reading your messages, and meeting with you have helped me better understand how painful our silence was,” he wrote. “It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights.”

That internal statement followed another company-wide town hall on Thursday, March 10, where employees called out Disney’s public silence around the Florida bill and demanded more direct action from their employer. That meeting was the result of an initial memo from Chapek explaining Disney’s decision to not release a public statement about the Florida legislation because it could be “weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”

The fallout around Disney’s response to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has not just been internal. In an interview with NBC News, Stephen Gaskill, the leader of the LGBTQ Caucus in Florida’s Democratic Party, criticized the group’s decision to host its annual fundraiser at Disney World. Invites for the June event reportedly went out on Monday, and by midday Tuesday during the walkouts, Gaskill called for “the party to find another location for this event.”

“The messaging and timing couldn’t be any poorer,” Gaskill said Tuesday. “This is the last place the Florida Democratic Party should be holding a fundraiser — especially during Pride Month.”

Lesley Goldberg and Ryan Parker contributed to this reporting.

March 22, 10:30 p.m. Updated story with Pixar, Lucasfilm and Parks employees walkout participation.

March 23, 8:45 a.m. Updated with comment from SEIU-USWW.

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