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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Maya Yang

Disney World hosts LGBTQ+ conference amid DeSantis crackdown on rights

woman at disney world with a rainbow flag mickey mouse head
Out & Equal lists the Walt Disney Company as one of its top partners. Photograph: Octavio Jones/Reuters

Disney is pushing back against Florida’s rightwing Republican governor Ron DeSantis’s crackdown on LGBTQ+ rights by hosting a major LGBTQ+ conference.

The Out & Equal Workplace summit has touted itself as the “largest LGBTQ+ conference in the world” and draws more than 5,000 attendees annually. For the next two years, the Out & Equal non-profit which focuses on LGBTQ+ workplace equality will be held at Walt Disney World in Orlando, the Miami Herald reports.

Out & Equal lists the Walt Disney Company as one of its top partners alongside other major companies including Apple, Bank of America and Uber, according to the non-profit’s website. Multiple government agencies including the state department, CIA and Food and Drug Administration have also been listed as event partners and are expected to set up booths at the summit.

“Over more than 20 years, Summit has grown to become the preferred place to network and share strategies that create inclusive workplaces, where everyone belongs and where LGBTQ+ employees can be out and thrive,” the organization’s website stated.

“Through our worldwide programs, strategic corporate partnerships, and sought-after events, we help LGBTQ+ individuals realize their fullest, most authentic potential, while supporting organizations in creating cultures of belonging for all,” it added.

The summit is regarded as a defiant response to DeSantis’s fight against LGBTQ+ rights in Florida and follows new powers assumed by the governor last month which will allow him to appoint members of the development board that supervises the theme park and its self-governing district.

“There’s a new sheriff in town,” DeSantis said as he declared victory over the theme park which for nearly 60 years enjoyed autonomy in its self-governing Reedy Creek district and attracted nearly 13 million visitors last year.

Earlier this month, DeSantis appointed five rightwing board members to Reed Creek’s district board, including the founder of a rightwing parent group, a Christian nationalist and a Republican party donor.

In response to DeSantis’s takeover of its special district, Disney appeared to indicate that it will not challenge the law. “We are focused on the future and are ready to work within this new framework,” Walt Disney World Resort president Jeff Vahle said in a statement.

Nevertheless, Since DeSantis launched a culture war against “wokeness” in Florida by prohibiting discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, Disney has remained adamantly opposed to DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” bill.

Last year, Disney staff members staged walkouts over the bill and then CEO Bob Chapek announced that Disney will be pausing all political donations in Florida.

This latest development in the rift between DeSantis and Disney and the governor’s broader culture war follows his announcement last month that he plans to ban state universities from spending money on diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives.

“It really serves as an ideological filter, a political filter,” he said.

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