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Why is the American right fighting with Mickey Mouse?

Disney, that bastion of family-friendly entertainment, has aroused the wrath of leading Republicans in a row over a new law in Florida.

By Emily Tamkin

The American right is mad at Disney?

I’m afraid so.

When you say “mad at Disney”…?

Various figures on the right, including Donald Trump’s eldest son, the congresswoman Lauren Boebert, the Fox News host Laura Ingraham, and the conservative activist Christopher Rufo, are implying that Disney is “grooming” young children with radical sexual propaganda.

Wait. Why?

Basically, there was a bill in Florida that said, “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade three [mostly eight-year-olds] or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The legislation was dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its critics.

Hm. I’m not sure I’d want my kindergarten student learning about sexual orientation.

The issue here is that if you give your five-year-old a book with a mother and a father you are, in fact, teaching them about sexual orientation and gender identity. If your child’s first-grade teacher references her boyfriend, she’s introducing them to sexual orientation. This legislation just pretends that the only sexual orientations and gender identities that are appropriate for young children to encounter are cis and heterosexual.

I guess that’s true. But I still don’t see how Disney is involved?

I’m getting there! It was revealed that Disney donated $200,000 to the Republicans behind the bill. The Walt Disney company put out a statement saying, “the biggest impact we can have in creating a more inclusive world is through the inspiring content we produce, the welcoming culture we create here, and the diverse community organisations we support, including those representing the LGBTQ+ community.” Promising inspiring content to people who felt their very identities were being attacked did not go over well. (It’s also worth noting, maybe, that Disney has actually been accused by its own employees of censoring signs of same-sex affection in its Pixar movies.)

After pressure from the public – and employees – Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, then came out in opposition to the bill.

Did the bill still pass?

Yes. Ron DeSantis, the governor of Florida, signed it into law on 28 March.

But people are still mad?

Yes. Disney has said it will work to repeal the bill. Rufo has implied that he would like Disney to learn a lesson about giving in to employee pressure and the importance of staying out of politics. (Giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to legislators who crafted the legislation isn’t staying out of politics, but no matter.)

Are they attacking specific films or characters or just all of Disney?

Both. Some people are focused on specific films or symbols. One woman wrote an op-ed for Fox criticising Turning Red, a new Disney and Pixar film in which a young Chinese-Canadian girl turns into a red panda as a sort of metaphor for puberty. Some are claiming that there’s a penis shown on an image of Minnie Mouse’s dress. But people are also just attacking the whole company.

Will there be other laws like this?

Almost certainly. Dan Patrick, the lieutenant governor of Texas, has said he’d like to see similar legislation in Texas. And Republican lawmakers in Ohio introduced a version of the law in their state.

Are Republicans also trying to imply that some people are friendly to paedophiles now?

In some cases, yes. In further Republican dog whistle news, during Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearings for a place on the Supreme Court, some GOPers – notably the Missouri senator Josh Hawley, perhaps most famous for fist-pumping the angry mob that went on to storm the Capitol on 6 January 2021 and then voting not to certify the presidential election results – stressed that Jackson had sentenced offenders to less prison time than federal sentencing guidelines recommended in several cases. This is, in fact, common practice in cases where the crime was viewing or distributing images, rather than creating. Hawley’s comment was widely seen as a wink and a nod to QAnon.

QAnon – you mean the conspiracy theory that said Donald Trump was fighting a secret war against paedophiles in government and the media?

That’s the one.

So people are pushing legislation, and when it’s criticised for making life harder for LGBTQ people, they say that their critics are sympathetic to paedophiles?


Will it work?

That remains to be seen. On the one hand, Disney is a powerful corporation and also the creator of beloved children’s works. The movies are family films. The theme parks are family holiday destinations; Disney is not a bastion of progressivism. On the other hand, we’ve seen bad faith actors and smear campaigns work and win before in American politics.

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