Corporate America is facing the impact of culture wars. Recent boycotts and threats by right-wing critics against companies like Bud Light, Target, and Kohl’s for their support of the L.G.B.T.Q. community have highlighted the growing politicization of big businesses. As companies are increasingly forced to take sides, some are aligning themselves with the L.G.B.T.Q. community due to the changing landscape of consumer and employee expectations.
The conflict between Disney and Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida exemplifies this transformation. When DeSantis criticized Disney for opposing his anti-L.G.B.T.Q. legislation, Disney fought back by suing him and canceling a major development project. Suddenly, DeSantis found himself labeled as anti-business, a reputation that his Republican opponent, Donald Trump, exploited. Disney’s staunch defense of L.G.B.T.Q. rights may seem surprising for a corporation that hasn’t historically taken strong social positions, but it’s a response born out of necessity.
The relationship between Disney and the L.G.B.T.Q. community has deep roots. As early as the 1930s, queer individuals identified with Disney characters and found solace and hope in the acceptance of misfit characters. Over the years, Disney quietly incorporated queer subtext into its culture with the help of openly L.G.B.T.Q. artists. However, these references remained subtle to avoid alienating conservative families.
Disney’s approach to L.G.B.T.Q. representation remained cautious compared to other media, but it still profited from events like Gay Days at Disney World. However, when Governor DeSantis supported legislation that restricted discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, Disney’s tepid response angered employees. The backlash forced the company to become more overt in its support of the L.G.B.T.Q. community, including featuring openly L.G.B.T.Q. characters in its movies.
Engaging in open conflict with a state official is an uncommon strategy for any business, but Disney’s bottom line hasn’t suffered. Attendance at its theme parks remains strong, and its movies continue to dominate the box office. Analysts attribute the company’s success more to the cable services and streaming industry than to the culture wars. Similar dynamics are seen with Walmart, which faced criticism for selling Pride-related merchandise but maintained its stance, resulting in a rise in its stock price.
Disney’s example has inspired other organizations to support the L.G.B.T.Q. community. However, Disney still exercises caution in pushing boundaries and tends to focus on marketing to monogamous, married same-sex couples with children. The true heroes in this story are the L.G.B.T.Q. consumers and employees who have supported Disney throughout generations. The company’s decisions reflect an acknowledgment of its history and the influence of these individuals.
The clash between Disney and DeSantis demonstrates that the old approach of staying neutral no longer works for companies. Ambitious politicians may reconsider involving businesses in culture wars, and executives are learning that fighting back can sometimes be beneficial for their bottom line.
Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto