March 15, 2020 at 4:15 pm EDT | by John Paul King
New CEO rebuffs homophobia, doubles down on inclusion at Disney shareholder meeting
Disney CEO Bob Chapek (R) with former CEO Robert Iger (L) (Photo courtesy of Disney)

An anti-LGBTQ activist got shut down at Disney’s annual shareholder meeting by none other than the company’s new CEO himself.

Caroline Farrow, who was representing the British conservative advocacy group CitizenGo, came to the March 11 event to pressure the entertainment giant over its promotion of “LGBT ideology” in its films and television programming. It was the first shareholder meeting to be presided over by Bob Chapek, a 27-year Disney veteran who replaced former company CEO Bob Iger at the end of February.

Farrow is an outspoken anti-LGBTQ propogandist who has described rainbow lanyards as a “hostile political symbol,” written an article claiming that LGBTQ parenting “threatens to eliminate the concept of motherhood and rides roughshod over children’s needs,” and has a history of making transphobic statements – even receiving an injunction to desist her tweets about a transgender lawyer.

At the Raleigh, North Carolina meeting, she spoke up to suggest that decline in the value of the company’ stock was due to its inclusion of LGBTQ representation in its content.

Directing her remarks at Chapek, she said, “At a time when your stock is down by 20 percent, is it perhaps time to reconsider what you can do to make Disney more family friendly… and also, what would you say to those 700,000 people who signed our petition saying, please let’s not have the gay prides in the Disneyland parks?”

She added that many families “no longer feel safe” engaging with Disney over its embrace of LGBTQ characters.

Chapek didn’t take the bait.

The fledgling company chair instead doubled down on Disney’s commitment to inclusion, before countering Farrow’s analysis of the falling stock value with the more likely suggestion that the declining numbers were related to the global outbreak of COVID-19.

“At Disney we strongly believe we should reflect in our creative content the diversity that we find in our fanbase and our audience,” Chapek said. “I believe that will continue with an increased commitment as we move forward. We want to represent our audience. We believe we want to tell stories that our audience wants to hear that reflects their lives.”

“In terms of the stock price, there’s a lot of reasons why the stock price might be down 20 per cent that has nothing to do with the issue you raised,” he continued. “It might have more to do with coronavirus and the worldwide pandemic that we’re facing.”

His response was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the crowd of shareholders in attendance.

Disney has been increasing LGBTQ representation in its contents in recent years, introducing the Disney Channel’s first recurring LGBTQ storyline on the show “Andi Mack” in 2017, and featuring same-sex couples on the cartoons “Doc McStuffins” and “Star vs. The Forces of Evil.” It raised the ire of conservatives and challenged censors in foreign markets with anti-LGBTQ guidelines by including a character that was strongly implied to be LGBTQ in its live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” and has included LGBTQ moments and characters in its Marvel and “Star Wars” films and shows. The current Disney/Pixar release “Onward” features an out lesbian character voiced by Lena Waithe, and there are reportedly out gay characters coming in the upcoming releases “Jungle Cruise” and Marvel’s “The Eternals.”

Conservative critics have continued to express homophobic outrage at even the slightest suggestion of LGBTQ inclusion from Disney, with anti-LGBTQ groups petitioning the company to stop hosting Pride events at their parks and a call for a boycott from the misleadingly-named One Million Moms.

Despite its efforts toward inclusion, the company has also taken fire from critics and LGBTQ advocates for lagging behind, by providing characters with LGBTQ identities that are hidden, subtle, or token and failing to embrace the fan-fueled LGBTQ identification of characters such as Elsa in “Frozen” or Finn and Poe in the rebooted “Star Wars” franchise.

Chapek’s unequivocal response to Farrow at last Wednesday’s meeting is being interpreted as a signal of the company’s commitment to more representation.

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