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Disney CEO comes out against ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, says he contacted DeSantis

Bob Chapek says company will donate $5 million to LGBTQ groups

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Disney CEO Bob Chapek says his company has opposed the "Don't Say Gay" bill from the beginning.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek, amid criticism for declining to speak out against the Florida “Don’t Say Gay” bill, came out against the legislation on Wednesday, insisting the media conglomerate has been “opposed to the bill from the outset” and noted he would engage with Gov. Ron DeSantis on the legislation.

The position of Disney, which has been under fire for its muted response as well as it political contributions to lawmakers behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was confirmed by the company Wednesday via a readout of Chapek’s remarks as reported by the Hollywood Reporter.

Chapek signaled his company’s opposition to the legislation during the annual shareholder meeting. Additionally, Chapek said Disney would donate $5 million to organizations working to protect LGBTQ rights, including the Human Rights Campaign.

With regard to the bill, Chapek was quoted as saying “while we have been strong supporters of the community for decades, I understand that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill. We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes working with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”

Addressing the contributions Disney has made to lawmakers behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Chapek said Disney was hoping its “longstanding relationships with those lawmakers could lead to a better outcome. Ultimately, we were unsuccessful.” That’s when Chapek reportedly said he contacted DeSantis about the bill.

“I called Gov. DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be unfairly used to target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families,” Chapek is quoted as saying. “The governor heard our concerns, and agreed to meet with me and LGBTQ+ members of our senior team in Florida to discuss ways to address them.”

The Florida Legislature gave final approval to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which would bar Florida schools from “instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3 and otherwise not at “age-appropriate” levels, when the Senate voted 22-17 on the legislation. DeSantis has signaled support for the bill and is expected to sign it.

Fabrice Houdart, managing director of Out Leadership and organizer of a letter to Disney urging the company to speak out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, said Chapek’s words were too little too late.

“We continue to ask companies to step up the economic heat on lawmakers nationwide as they attack the dignity and well-being of our children and families in a series of bills motivated by animus and political gains,” Houdart said.

A DeSantis spokesperson, in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade, confirms via the governor spoke with the Disney CEO, but said “the governor’s position has not changed.”

“Disney is known as a family-friendly company that creates wholesome entertainment for kids,” the spokesperson said. “The same Florida parents who take their families to Disney also support parental rights in education, because they do not want their young children exposed to inappropriate content about sex and gender theory at school.”

UPDATE: The Human Rights Campaign, in a statement after news reports broke on the Disney CEO coming out against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, signaled it wouldn’t accept the donation until “meaningful action is taken.”

“The Human Rights Campaign will not accept this money from Disney until we see them build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books Businesses have had and continue to have a major impact in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights, from marriage equality to the defeat of House Bill 2 in North Carolina and beyond,” said Joni Madison, interim president of the Human Rights Campaign. “While Disney took a regrettable stance by choosing to stay silent amid political attacks against LGBTQ+ families in Florida — including hardworking families employed by Disney — today they took a step in the right direction.”

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Georgia

Kemp signs Ga. healthcare ban targeting transgender, nonbinary youth

Advocacy groups condemned the law

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Georgia State Capitol (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Georgia’s Republican Gov. Brian Kemp on Thursday signed a ban on guideline-directed gender-affirming healthcare for transgender and nonbinary youth that was passed earlier this week by the GOP-controlled state legislature.

The law threatens to revoke the medical licenses of physicians who administer treatments for gender dysphoria in minor patients that are overwhelmingly considered safe, effective, and medically necessary by every scientific and medical society with relevant clinical expertise.

A previous version of Senate Bill 140 applied exclusively to surgical interventions, but the version signed into law Thursday also prohibits hormone replacement therapies, although treatment with puberty blockers is still allowed.

The move by GOP legislators to expand the healthcare interventions covered by the legislation follows pressure from conservatives like far-right U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who represents Georgia’s 14th Congressional District in the House and urged the state’s lawmakers last week to make the bill more restrictive.

At the time, Greene also objected to the draft bill’s “limited exceptions” carved out for cases where patients are treated for conditions other than gender dysphoria, including those diagnosed with “a medically verifiable disorder of sex development,” provided the physician can attest they are medically necessary.

These provisions were kept intact in the bill’s final iteration, which contains additional exceptions for the treatment of partial androgen insensitivity syndrome and in circumstances where the minor patient was being treated with hormone replacement therapies prior to July 1, 2023.

A chorus of objections to and condemnations of the legislation have come from LGBTQ groups, along with legal and civil rights advocacy organizations and medical societies, clinicians, and scientists, including the Georgia Psychological Association.

The Human Rights Campaign, America’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, issued a statement shortly after Kemp signed the bill Thursday, declaring that Georgia had become “the largest state to legislatively enact such a discriminatory ban.”

“Governor Kemp should be ashamed of himself — taking life-saving care away from vulnerable youth is a disgusting and indefensible act,” Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said in the statement. “This law harms transgender youth and terrorizes their families, but helps no one.”

Despite the wave of legislation across the country barring access to or criminalizing gender affirming care, in most cases for minor patients, the group noted in Thursday’s release that “polling by Patinkin Research Strategies released this month shows that only 26 percent of likely November 2024 voters in Georgia supported the legislation, while 66 percent opposed it” including 63 percent of independent and 59 percent of likely Republican voters.

According to the findings of a Human Rights Campaign study that were announced Wednesday, “more than half (50.4 percent) of trans youth (ages 13-17) have lost or are at risk of losing access to age appropriate, medically necessary gender-affirming care in their state” – care, the group stressed, that “can be lifesaving.”

Following the Georgia legislature’s passage of the SB 140 earlier this week, the ACLU warned it would “[interfere] with the rights of Georgia parents to get life-saving medical treatment for their children” and prevent “physicians from properly caring for their patients.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center released a statement by Beth Littrell, the organization’s senior supervising attorney for its LGBTQ and Special Litigation Practice Group, calling the bill a “cynical partisan attack on transgender youth, medical autonomy, and parental rights” and urging Kemp to “leave personal healthcare decisions in the capable hands of parents, children, and their doctors.”

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U.S. Federal Courts

Families with trans kids sue Fla. over trans youth healthcare ban

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed bill on March 16

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Florida_Gov_Ron_DeSantis_with_Florida_Surgeon_General_Dr_Joseph_Ladapo
Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis & Surgeon General, Dr. Joseph Ladapo (Screenshot/YouTube WTXL ABC 7 Tallahassee)

A lawsuit on behalf of four families with transgender children was filed Thursday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, challenging the state’s Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine’s ban on gender affirming healthcare for minors.

The legal groups representing the four families, GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Human Rights Campaign and the Southern Legal Counsel, Inc., noted in the suit that the bans contradict guidelines established through years of clinical research and recommended by every major medical association including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

The lawsuit also spells out that the policies unlawfully strips parents of the right to make informed decisions about their children’s medical treatment and violates the equal protection rights of transgender youth by denying them medically necessary, doctor-recommended healthcare to treat their gender dysphoria. 

The enactment of Florida’s transgender healthcare ban, which went into effect on March 16 has faced considerable scrutiny as a politically-motivated process instigated at the urging of the governor and ignoring established medical and scientific consensus on medical care for transgender youth. 

Statewide LGBTQ Equality rights advocacy group Equality Florida has decried the ban saying it was little more than a cultural war maneuver by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis who is widely expected to announce a run for the presidency in 2024.

In the summer of 2022, Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and the Department of Health asked the state Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine to adopt a categorical ban on all treatment of gender dysphoria for people under 18.

In February and March 2023, respectively, the boards adopted formal rules prohibiting all access to safe, effective medical treatments for trans youth who have received a gender dysphoria diagnosis but who have not yet begun puberty delaying medication or hormone treatments. Surgeon General Ladapo and all members of the Florida Boards of Medicine and Osteopathic Medicine are defendants in the families’ suit challenging the ban.

“This policy came about through a political process with a predetermined conclusion, and it stands in direct contrast to the overwhelming weight of the evidence and science,” said Simone Chriss, director of the Southern Legal Counsel’s Transgender Rights Initiative. “There is an unbelievable degree of hypocrisy when a state that holds itself out as being deeply concerned with protecting ‘parents’ rights’ strips parents of their right to ensure their children receive appropriate medical care. I have worked with families and their healthcare providers in Florida for many years. They work tirelessly every day to ensure the best health outcomes for their kids and patients, and they are worried sick about the devastating impacts that this ban will have.”

“The Florida Boards of Medicine chose to ignore the evidence and science in front of them and instead put families in the unthinkable position of not being able to provide essential healthcare for their kids,” said Jennifer Levi, GLAD’s Senior Director of Transgender and Queer Rights.

“Parents, not the government, should make healthcare decisions for their children,” said Shannon Minter, Legal Director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “This policy crosses a dangerous line and should concern anyone who cares about family privacy or the ability of doctors to do their jobs without undue government interference.”    

“It’s alarming to see such a concerted, top-down effort to target a small and vulnerable population,” said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “The Florida Surgeon General, Department of Health and Boards of Medicine should be focused on the real and serious public health issues Florida faces, not on putting transgender kids and their families in harm’s way.”

In a press statement by the legal teams representing them, the four families also weighed in:

“Like most parents, my husband and I want nothing more than for our daughter to be healthy, happy, and safe,” said Jane Doe speaking about her 11-year-old daughter, Susan. “Being able to consult with our team of doctors to understand what our daughter is experiencing and make the best, most informed decisions about her care has been critically important for our family. She is a happy, confident child, but this ban takes away our right to provide her with the next step in her recommended treatment when she reaches puberty. The military doctors we work with understand the importance of providing that evidence-based, individualized care. We’re proud to serve our country, but we are being treated differently than other military families because of a decision by politicians in the state where we are stationed. We have no choice but to fight this ban to protect our daughter’s physical and mental health.”

“This ban puts me and other Florida parents in the nightmare position of not being able to help our child when they need us most,” said Brenda Boe, who is challenging the ban on behalf of herself and her 14-year-old son, Bennett Boe. “My son has a right to receive appropriate, evidence-based medical care. He was finally getting to a place where he felt hopeful, where being prescribed testosterone was on the horizon and he could see a future for himself in his own body. That has been ripped away by this cruel and discriminatory rule.” 

“Working with our healthcare team to understand what my daughter is experiencing and learning there are established, effective treatments that are already helping her to thrive has been an incredible relief,” said Fiona Foe, who is challenging the ban on behalf of herself and her 10-year-old daughter, Freya Foe. “I know everyone may not understand what it means to have a transgender child, but taking away our opportunity to help our daughter live a healthy and happy life is cruel and unfair.”

“Our daughter has been saying she is a girl since she was three — it hasn’t gone away,” said Carla Coe, a plaintiff in the lawsuit along with her 9-year-old daughter, Christina Coe. “Since she started being able to live as a girl she has been so much happier and better adjusted. Having the resources and support to make the best decisions for her wellbeing has been so important for our family. I’m scared this ban will take away the essential medical care she may need when she gets older. We just want to do what’s right for our kid.”

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Florida

DeSantis eyes expansion of anti-LGBTQ “Don’t Say Gay” law

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre condemned the move Wednesday

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) (Photo credit: office of the Governor)

Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is aiming to expand the state’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law, officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Act, such that it would apply to public school classrooms from pre-K through grade 12.

The existing law, which was enacted last year, prohibits discussion or classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for public school students from kindergarten through third grade.

The Orlando Sentinel first reported the proposal to expand the statute, which was made at the behest of Florida’s DeSantis appointed and avowedly anti-LGBTQ Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr.

Exemptions are carved out in cases where otherwise prohibited materials are included in existing state standards or constitute part of reproductive health instruction, provided that parents or students are able to opt-out.

Asked for a reaction to DeSantis’s proposed expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay” law during a press briefing Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre spoke out against the move by the Florida Governor:

“Yeah.  It’s wrong.  It’s completely, utterly wrong.  And we’ve been crystal clear about that, when it comes to the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill and other — other actions that this governor has taken in the state of Florida.”

But make no mistake, this is a part of a disturbing and dangerous trend that we’re seeing across the country of legislations that are anti-LGBTQI+, anti-trans, anti the community in a way that we have not seen it in some time. And so — and it’s not just the LGBTQI+ community.  We’re talking about students.  We’re talking about educators.  We’re talking about, just, individuals.”

The President has been very clear, this administration has been very clear: We will continue to fight for the dignity of — of Americans, for the dignity and respect of the community, of opportunity that should be given to students and families in Florida and across the country.”

So, again, this is just plain wrong, and we’re going to continue to speak against — speak out against it,” Jean-Pierre said.

Brandon Wolf, Press Secretary for Equality Florida, the largest state-wide LGBTQ+ equality rights and advocacy organization, released the following statement:

“After a year’s worth of gaslighting and assurances that the Don’t Say LGBTQ law was narrowly focused, the DeSantis Administration is now saying the quiet part out loud: they believe that it is never appropriate to acknowledge the existence of LGBTQ people, or our contributions to society, in schools. This time, the governor is placing the crosshairs squarely on individual educators, threatening their professional licenses for making mention of the LGBTQ community in any grade level.

The Board of Education’s proposed rule would see more books with LGBTQ characters ripped from school shelves, more discussion of diverse families muzzled, and further character assassination of hardworking teachers in Florida. Free states don’t ban books. Free states don’t censor communities out of classrooms. Free states don’t copy/paste their political agendas from the likes of Vladimir Putin.”

This proposed rule is yet more government power being perverted to serve Ron DeSantis’ desperation to run for President. And its consequences will weigh most heavily on those who have already been forced to bear the brunt of his insatiable lust for power.“

Equality Florida also noted that while the DeSantis Administration has rejected requests to clarify the law’s vague, unconstitutional language, its proposal would add legal liability for individual educators, threatening their professional licenses for violations. The proposed rule is scheduled for a vote by the State Board of Education at their meeting on April 19 in Tallahassee.

DeSantis is considering a run for the presidency and has made culture war issues the forefront of his administration’s policies.

Former openly gay Florida Democratic State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith tweeted: “It was never, ever, ever, ever about kindergarten thru 3rd grade. It was always about demonizing us and censoring LGBTQ people out of existence in our schools.”

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