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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he warned Disney not to get involved in schools debate: ‘It won’t end well for you’

Mickey Mouse waves to fans during a parade at Walt Disney World Resort on March 03, 2022 and Governor Ron DeSantis delivers remarks during a roundtable discussion with theme park leaders on August 26, 2020.

From left, Arturo Holmes/Getty Images for Disney Dreamers Academy and Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

  • DeSantis said he warned Disney to butt out of Florida’s sexual identity and gender education bill.
  • Disney’s CEO told shareholders he expressed “disappointment and concern” to DeSantis over the bill.
  • Florida lawmakers and DeSantis recently stripped the company of its special tax status.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he warned Walt Disney Co. to stay out of the dispute over a contentious sex education bill that critics call “Don’t Say Gay.” 

“I though it was a mistake for Disney to get involved and I told them, ‘You shouldn’t get involved it’s not going to work out well for you,'” DeSantis, a Republican, said in an interview with conservative commentator Dave Rubin released online to subscribers on Monday. 

DeSantis made good on his warning against Disney, signing a bill into law in April to dissolve the company of its self-governing status after executives said they would work to repeal the legislation, formally known as the Parental Rights in Education Act.

DeSantis said during the Rubin interview that Disney was free to take a position on the bill but “they are not free to force all of us to subsidize their activism, and that’s what they were doing.” 

Disney did not reply to questions asking what happened during the exchange with DeSantis. In early March, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told shareholders that he called DeSantis expressing “disappointment and concern” over the legislation.

A couple of weeks later Disney employees staged a walkout, saying Chapek failed to take a more forceful response against the bill as it was making its way through the legislature.

Disney is Florida’s largest employer through its Walt Disney World theme park and resort in Orlando — the same city where DeSantis’ live interview with Rubin for “The Rubin Report” took place. 

Recounting the battle with Disney that spilled into public view, DeSantis said he wasn’t initially paying attention to the issue until he started getting questions from reporters “with these slogans about ‘gay.'” 

“I’m punching back,” said the governor, who is up for reelection in November and is widely viewed as a GOP favorite to run for president in 2024, especially if former President Donald Trump doesn’t run. 

The schools law goes into effect on July 1 and doesn’t contain the word “gay.” The governor’s office has pointed out that it bans teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity specifically in kindergarten through third grade.

But other language in the bill is more vague, banning such instruction “in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” Critics say it could marginalize LGBTQ+ students, teachers, or children of families from same-sex households, including if teachers happen to be casually discussing spousal or dating relationships while in the classroom.

DeSantis calls for school board ‘big red wave’

Education has become a major issue for DeSantis and the GOP base. In the fall of 2020, before vaccines were available to protect people from serious illness resulting from COVID-19, DeSantis bucked most federal health officials by pushing schools to end remote learning and open for in-person classes. 

The decision proved to be popular for the governor, and voters have complained about schooling as they’ve gone to the polls in other states that wouldn’t quickly reopen, including in Virginia. Many officials now concede that remote learning harmed students’ education. 

DeSantis also waded into battles over school boards after some Florida school boards dissented from the governor’s policies, such as his controversial ban on mask mandates. He signed a bill into law in March that term limits school board members to 12 years. 

Asked what families could do to join DeSantis in the fight, the governor said he hoped to see “a big, red wave sweep these school board races” in Florida.

“These school board elections have more importance than ever before,” DeSantis told the “Rubin Report” audience. “You guys can make a huge difference in your community.” 

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