Disney World's right to self-govern revoked following 'Don't Say Gay' row

In response to Disney opposing Florida's 'Don't Say Gay' law, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis appointed a new conservative governing body to oversee the district.

Disney castle in Floria, where Ron DeSantis is governor.
Image: Twitter @DisneyWorldPack

Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis, signed a bill on Monday, February 27 that terminates Walt Disney World’s right to self-govern the land surrounding the theme park’s properties. The move comes in response to Disney expressing opposition to the state’s Parental Rights in Education Law, better known as Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, which forbids classroom discussion on the topics of gender identity and sexuality. 

Since 1967, Disney held a special status that allowed the theme park to govern the surrounding Florida land that it occupies through a self-governing district called Reedy Creek Improvement District. As of Monday, a state-controlled board has been appointed by DeSantis to govern the area, which will now be called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.

The new legislation grants the Republican governor the authority to appoint all five members of the Board of Supervisors, and they could determine that Disney owes the state millions in debt. The board Chairman is Martin Garcia, whose investment firm, Pinehill Capital Partners, donated $50,000 to DeSantis’ campaign.

Other board members include Bridget Ziegler, Co-Founder of a conservative group called Moms for Liberty that trains and recruits conservative adults to run for school boards. Ziegler is married to a vice chairman of the Florida Republican Party.

During a press talk in Lake Buena Vista and in response to the new law, DeSantis said, “The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end. There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”

In 2022, Disney employees pressured the company to take a stronger stance against Florida’s Don’t Say Gay bill, which was ultimately passed by DeSantis. Roy P Disney, the Co-Founder of Walt Disney Co and great-nephew of Walt Disney condemned the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and matched $500,000 in donations to the Human Rights Campaign in support of his transgender stepson, Charlee Corra, who publicly came out as trans last year.

In a statement issued at the time, Disney said, “Equality matters deeply to us, especially because our child, Charlee, is transgender and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.”

In his book, The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival, Ron DeSantis referenced the long-running conflict between Disney and himself. He claims that former Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, was aware of the risks Disney faced when the company voiced concerns about DeSantis’ efforts to remove LGBTQ+ education from Florida classrooms.

Disney has not issued a public response, but many have expressed concerns about the precedent that it sets for DeSantis targeting other corporations, especially if the Republican runs for President of the United States.

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