Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Friday revoking Walt Disney of its self-governing authority to punish the company for opposing a new law restricting classroom discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation, opening up a new front in the nation’s culture wars.
The new law, set to take effect in June 2023, will revoke special privileges granted to Disney decades ago to govern the land surrounding its Disney World theme park. It will cost Disney tens of millions of dollars a year and has upended the cozy relationship between the state and the company.
The public feud over Florida’s Parental Rights in Education law, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” by opponents, is the latest in the political right’s battle against “wokeness.”
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Conservatives increasingly are using hardball tactics to punish big companies for speaking out on hot-button social issues. Once a rallying cry for systemic racism and injustice, “wokeness” has been co-opted by the political right to decry “political correctness” and progressive talking points.
“Conservatives are learning how to fight against woke capital,” activist Christopher Rufo told USA TODAY.
Republicans pounced on Delta Air Lines and Major League Baseball for opposing Georgia’s restrictive voting laws. Texas threatened Citigroup over its policy to pay for employees to travel out of state for abortions.
This new stance is a far cry from the business-friendly politics of yesteryear.
In 2015, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled statehouse revised a “religious freedom” law after pressure from leaders of major corporations including Apple and Salesforce who warned it would allow businesses to discriminate against gay people.
The Disney-DeSantis dust-up marks a sharp escalation in the GOP push to get corporations to stop mixing politics and business.
“CEOs should beware: Conservatives are putting a price on woke capital and, if they want to protect shareholder value, they should stay out of the culture war,” Rufo said.
Rufo is behind an effort to put pressure on corporations to ditch progressive attitudes. First, he took aim at how racism is taught, not just in schools but in private companies.
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Conservative attacks on what Rufo calls critical race theory led to a wave of legislation in statehouses across the country. At the behest of DeSantis, Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature passed the nation’s first law restricting what private employers can teach workers about race.
Now Rufo is focused on reining in discussions of LGBTQ issues in public classrooms and private cubicles.
Disney became entangled in a face-off with DeSantis when CEO Bob Chapek pledged Disney would work to repeal the Parental Rights in Education Act. The law bans classroom discussion of gender identity and sexual orientation until the third grade and limit it for older students.
In response, DeSantis, who is considering a presidential run in 2024, slammed “Woke Disney.”
“If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” he wrote in a recent campaign fundraising email.
“Gov. DeSantis is proving to be the most capable conservative leader in the nation, exhibiting remarkable courage and strategic wisdom in his face-off with Disney executives,” Rufo said.