“Our timing was not ideal,” Diaz said in a statement. “We also recognize that in our struggle for freedom and justice we can always do more. In that spirit, the Florida Democratic Party will select new dates and venues to hold Leadership Blue. We will share information about new events once we have explored available options. “
LGBTQ supporters and corporate employees have criticized Disney for not taking an early stance on a bill on “Parental Rights in Education” – called the “Don’t Say Gay” measure by opponents – recently passed by the Florida Legislature, which prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation in the classroom or gender identity for young school children. Democratic lawmakers were adamant against the measure, and Disney did not publicly push back against it until the GOP-led lawmaker approved it, and the company faced enormous pressure to act.
The party’s decision to schedule its fundraiser at Disney outraged many Democrats.
“Disney is on the front page of every newspaper,” said Stephen Gaskill, president of the Florida Democratic LGBTQ caucus, who said he was “pissed” when he found out. “It’s just unthinkable that it would be unknown to the Florida Democratic Party during the planning of the event.”
“There are lots of hotels in Florida,” Gaskill said. “There’s nothing magical about this event in Orlando or Disney.”
The misstep for the Democrats comes at a time when Democrats are already retiring and losing relevance in what used to be one of the nation’s most prominent battleground states. The Democrats at the end of last year lost their electoral registration advantage over the Republicans in Florida and have nowhere near the money that the GOP has.
The fight within the Florida Democratic Party also highlights how controversial Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law has become. Opponents of the bill, including President Joe Biden, have condemned the legislation as an attack on LGBTQ students, warning that it could lead to students being bullied or even committing suicide. Proponents, including Governor Ron DeSantis, argue that it gives parents more control and information over their children’s education. There are at least nine other states considering similar measures, including Arizona and Tennessee.
In particular, Disney CEO Bob Chapek has been repeatedly criticized for clumsily trying to deal with the fallout of the bill only after its adoption, despite a riot among staff and others that the company should publicly condemn the bill. Disney, which has a flagship theme park in Orlando, employs at least 70,000 people in Florida.
State Representative Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said she understands Democrats have used Disney hotels in the past because they hire union workers. But she pointed out that even before the recent controversy, most of Disney’s political donations have gone to Republicans in Florida. Disney agreed to stop all political donations in Florida because of the “Parental Rights in Education” bill.
“It gives the impression that Florida Democrats do not see the news,” said Eskamani, who said she would boycott the event as long as it remains with Disney. “Hopefully the party will change the position.”
A Democratic consultant called the decision to hold fundraisers at Disney – first reported by NBC News – a “forced mistake” that puts candidates and donors in an “impossible position.”
Gaskill also pointed out that the event was scheduled for mid-June at the same time that Pride Month celebrations are being held, including a large one scheduled for Wilton Manors the same weekend. The date of the conference – June 17 to June 19 – also falls on Juneteenth, the day celebrating freedom for slaves at the end of the Civil War.
A Disney spokesman did not respond to questions, including whether the company planned to donate hotel rooms and park tickets to Democrats, as it has done in the past.
The controversy is another mistake for Diazif the leadership of the party already showed signs of strain at the end of his first year on the job.
Diaz spent his first year wiping out significant debt that he inherited. It was an economic situation so serious that it led to layoffs in early 2021. However, he went on a recruitment campaign at the end of last year with the aim of increasing field operations well before the election.
Last December, the party planned a “Leadership Blue” rally, while most Senate Democrats were heading to Las Vegas. The party also did not publicly announce that House Spokesman Jim Clyburn, the South Carolina Democrat whose support helped Joe Biden’s campaign, was the keynote speaker, so almost no media showed up.
Two Democrats who ran for governor on Tuesday also weighed in on the brewing conflict. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) Tweeted that “it makes sense for the party to consider other options”, while Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called on others in the party to boycott the event.
“Disney’s response to the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill was lukewarm, short-sighted and disappointing at best,” Fried said in a statement. “If the Democratic Party retains the Leadership Blue Gala at Disney, and Disney’s management does nothing more to combat hatred, I will not participate.”