DeSantis and Disney finally bring an end to feud caused by criticism of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law

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The feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Walt Disney World, sparked by criticism of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, has ended after nearly two years.

On Wednesday morning, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District approved a settlement between Allies of Ron DeSantis and Disney. The litigation first began when Disney criticised the 2022 “Don’t Say Gay” law, which banned classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.

The Florida governor, who had championed the law, subsequently took control of the district that governs Walt Disney World thanks to the state’s Republican-controlled legislature. He then appointed his own board of supervisors. The district, which Disney supporters previously controlled, provides municipal services — such as firefighting — to the park.

Disney sued, claiming their free speech rights were violated for speaking out against the law — but a federal judge threw out their case in January. US District Judge Allen Winsor determined that Disney lacks standing to sue the government, arguing that a “plaintiff cannot bring a free speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose.”

Mr DeSantis praised the settlement during a Wednesday afternoon press conference.

“I think that there’s a desire to move forward,” he told reporters. “I think that [Disney has] opportunities to expand their footprint and to continue to attract visitors, and those things, when there, can coincide with the state’s interest. We think that that’d be good, so I think the board will work with them.”

Disney also expressed hope that this settlement could lead to an improved relationship with the district’s leadership.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the state,” Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World, said.

But as this case comes to a close, Florida laws targeting the LGBT+ community are only ramping up.

After the “Don’t Say Gay” law passed in 2022, reporters from The Independent and other outlets found that Disney entities and affiliates contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the GOP lawmakers who championed the law, despite the company’s history of LGBTQ+ advocacy.

Last year, Mr DeSantis signed several anti-LGBT+ bills into law. That new set of laws, among other things, restricts gender-affirming care for minors, threatens drag shows, forbids people from using bathrooms that match their gender identity and prevents people from using their chosen pronouns at schools

That same year, lawmakers passed laws requiring books that are considered pornography, are deemed harmful to minors or contain sexual content to be pulled from school shelves. Some school districts have also used the “Don’t Say Gay” law to remove books with LGBTQ+ characters or content.

According to PEN America, 40 per cent of all book bans in the US took place in Florida in the 2022-2023 school year, with entities throughout the state banning a total of 1,406 books.