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Disney Sues DeSantis Over “Targeted Campaign” Originating in LGBTQ Rights Feud

The lawsuit accuses DeSantis of waging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” against Disney.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis answers questions from the media in the Florida Cabinet at the Florida State Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida, on March 7, 2023.

The Walt Disney Company has sued Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) after a Florida board voted to punish the company in the latest move in a protracted fight over the company speaking out in favor of LGBTQ rights.

A five-member board hand-picked by DeSantis voted on Wednesday to undo a decades-long agreement with the company allowing it to self-govern its operations in the state, revoking a deal struck between Disney and the previous board in February.

Just minutes after the vote, Disney sued DeSantis and the board, alleging that they are threatening the company’s operations in order to target protected speech from the company. The lawsuit said that the move was part of a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment.”

The lawsuit pinpoints the moment that DeSantis seemingly decided that he would begin antagonizing the company. “Governor DeSantis and his allies paid no mind to the governing structure that facilitated [the Walt Disney World resort]’s successful development until one year ago, when the Governor decided to target Disney. There is no room for disagreement about what happened here: Disney expressed its opinion on state legislation and was then punished by the State for doing so,” the lawsuit says.

“State leaders have not been subtle about their reasons for government intervention. They have proudly declared that Disney deserves this fate because of what Disney said. This is as clear a case of retaliation as this Court is ever likely to see,” the lawsuit continued.

Under the agreement between Disney and the previous board, the company was slated to enjoy a special status allowing it to effectively govern itself for the next three decades, barring the board from making significant changes to the agreement. But the new board’s legal counsel says that that agreement isn’t valid.

The lawsuit is an escalation of a feud that largely originates from Disney’s move to criticize DeSantis and Republicans’ “Don’t Say Gay” law, which was passed by the legislature last year. The law, widely condemned by LGBTQ and progressive advocates as dangerous and hateful, bans discussion of topics related to LGBTQ people in elementary school classrooms and restricts discussion of LGBTQ topics in high schools.

Disney initially stayed mum on the bill as it moved through the legislature last spring. After Disney workers organized a protest and criticized the company for its silence, however, the company came out against the bill, albeit in a manner that advocates said was lukewarm. Still, even the lukewarm statement was viewed as an act of war by the DeSantis administration, which commenced a barrage of attacks against the company.

Disney has been subject to its fair share of criticisms over its relationship with the LGBTQ community and its portrayal — or lack thereof — of LGBTQ characters in its media; progressives have also long criticized the company for its perpetuation of a hyper-capitalist, consumerist culture, labor misdeeds and general conservative influence over American politics.

That DeSantis would target what is a relatively conservative company for mild remarks in support of the LGBTQ community, observers have noted, is a show of how far the governor and the GOP will go to advance their culture wars — even when people’s lives are at stake. Meanwhile, Republicans’ supposed attacks on corporations in recent years come as right-wing lawmakers have fought tooth and nail to lower corporate tax rates behind the scenes for decades.

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