As Disney employees protested what they considered a delayed and lackluster response from the company to what critics call Florida’s “don’t say gay” bill, a Disney heir who recently came out as transgender watched in silence.
Now, Charlee Corra Disney, who uses they/them pronouns, is speaking out. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times published over the weekend, the 30-year-old high school science teacher said they regret not doing more to help.
“I don’t call senators or take action,” Charlee, whose great-grandfather was Disney co-founder Roy O. Disney, told the Times. “I felt like I could be doing more.”
Last month, at the Human Rights Campaign’s annual gala, Charlee and their family announced they would match up to $250,000 in donations to the nonprofit. Later, their parents, Sheri and Roy P. Disney, said they were upping the match to $500,000, according to the Times. The charity event served as a public coming-out for Charlee, the newspaper reported.
“Equality matters deeply to us, especially because our child, Charlee, is transgender and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community,” Roy wrote in an appeal to the HRC.
Disney executives were under fire in recent months for not speaking out against the recently signed Florida law that bans discussions or lessons on LGBTQ issues in schools for children in kindergarten through third grade. Disney chief executive Bob Chapek remained silent about the proposed legislation as it neared the finish line.
In a memo to Disney employees on March 7, Chapek acknowledged that many workers were upset the company had not publicly condemned the legislation. He added that a statement from the company wouldn’t effect change and that such statements “are often weaponized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame,” The Washington Post reported.
“I do not want anyone to mistake a lack of a statement for a lack of support,” he added.
The following day, the state Senate passed the bill.
Chapek broke his silence publicly on March 9, saying during a shareholder meeting that Disney was “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, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.”
“And we were hopeful that our long-standing relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome,” he added. “But, despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful.”
Chapek said the company was pledging $5 million to LGBTQ organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign. But in a news release that day, the nonprofit’s interim president, Joni Madison, criticized the company for staying silent for so long and said the HRC was refusing the donation “until we see [Disney] build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals . . . don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books.”
On March 22, hundreds of Disney employees across the country walked out in protest of Chapek’s response. In Burbank, Calif., workers gathered outside the company’s office building holding signs and chanting, “Say gay!”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law on March 28.
Charlee, who first identified as gay before coming out as transgender four years ago, told the Times they won’t tolerate legislation that will cause more obstacles for LGBTQ children, who already suffer from high rates of anxiety, depression, bullying and suicide.
“Then to put something like this law on top of that? They can’t learn about their community and their history at school, or play sports or use the bathroom they want to use?” Charlee said.
Charlee’s mother, Sheri, said the family was disappointed with Disney’s extended silence as the bill passed through the state Legislature. The $500,000 contribution to the HRC was a gesture proving her family advocates for LGBTQ rights, she told the Times, adding it’s also a reminder that children need their family’s support.
“I have a trans kid, and I love my kid no matter what,” she said.