Disney District, Now Under DeSantis’s Control, Ends Its D.E.I. Programs

The News

The special district that governs the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida announced on Tuesday that it was ending its diversity, equity and inclusion programs, a decision that is firmly in line with Gov. Ron DeSantis’s efforts to limit such measures in areas like higher education.

Why It Matters: Republicans are rolling back D.E.I. programs across the country

Main Street in Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., last month.Credit…John Raoux/Associated Press

The board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which was appointed by Mr. DeSantis after a bitter dispute with Disney, said in a statement that the district’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee would be dissolved; any jobs associated with it would be eliminated; and considerations of gender or racial parity would no longer factor into the awarding of contracts.

“Our district will no longer participate in any attempt to divide us by race or advance the notion that we are not created equal,” the district’s administrator, Glenton Gilzean, said.

The policy change applies to the district, which is largely funded by taxes levied on Disney and which functions something like a county government for the park, overseeing permitting, planning and services including fire protection, road maintenance and emergency medical responses.

The announcement comes as Republicans across the country are targeting diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and it follows Mr. DeSantis’s signing of a bill in May that largely banned public universities and colleges from spending money on such initiatives.

In Texas, state legislators eliminated diversity offices and training at public universities. And more than a dozen other states, including Tennessee and North Carolina, have proposed bills targeting diversity programs.

Fentrice Driskell, the Democratic leader in the Florida House of Representatives, said she was not surprised that the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District had followed suit.

“DeSantis’s actions and his cherry-picked board’s actions today really harm Florida’s reputation on a national basis in terms of being a place that is open, welcoming and good for business,” she said. “Because certainly, we want to see businesses and universities do the things that are best for them in terms of attracting a talented pool of students and a talented work force.”

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Background: The governor’s dispute with Disney started over the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill

The feud between Mr. DeSantis and Disney World, one of Florida’s largest employers, flared up last year when the governor signed the Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics often refer to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, into law. The legislation prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools.

After Disney employees pressured him to condemn the bill, Disney’s chief executive at the time, Bob Chapek, publicly criticized the bill, saying that he was concerned that it “could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, nonbinary and transgender kids and families.”

In response, Mr. DeSantis began referring to the company as “Woke Disney,” and he sought to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district.

The status had allowed Disney World to govern the planning and permitting process for construction on its grounds, as well as to levy taxes to pay for its own fire and medical responses services. The company saved millions of dollars annually through this special status, experts say.

The plan to abolish the district hit a snag when it emerged that taxpayers in Orange and Osceola Counties would have to pay for services like policing and road maintenance. The district also carried around $1 billion in debt that would have been transferred to the counties.

The State Legislature instead stripped the company of its power to appoint the five members of the district’s oversight board and gave it to Mr. DeSantis.

In April, the newly appointed board voted to nullify two agreements that gave Disney control over expansion of the resort. In response, Disney sued Mr. DeSantis in federal court, along with the board and other state officials, saying it was subjected to “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.”

Days later, the board filed a lawsuit against Disney in state court in Orlando, seeking to maintain its oversight of expansion, design and construction in the district.

In mid-May, Disney pulled the plug on an office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando. The project would have brought more than 2,000 Disney jobs to the region, according to an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

What’s Next

The feud between Disney and Mr. DeSantis appears set to continue, with the two lawsuits still winding their way through the courts.

Mr. DeSantis, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, has highlighted both his “anti-woke” and “anti-corporate” agenda on the campaign trail. National polls show him trailing former President Donald J. Trump by a large margin.

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