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Florida Votes to Punish Disney for Opposition to “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

Disney World is losing its special district status

florida disney punish retaliate special district reedy special improvement governor ron desantis walt disney don't say gay lgbtq
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, photo by Gage Skidmore
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    Florida Republicans are retaliating against The Walt Disney Company for its opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by passing a new law repealing Disney World’s special district status.

    As reported by Deadline and The New York Times, the land surrounding Disney World has been covered by the Reedy Creek Improvement District since 1967. It allows Disney to administer its own emergency services while gaining extra control over land use and environmental issues. It’s a very business-friendly arrangement, enacted for the sole purpose of enticing the House of Mouse to build a theme park, which it finally did in 1971.

    That special arrangement is set to end June 1st of 2023. The Florida Senate voted to eliminate the District on Wednesday, and the House followed suit today. Governor Ron DeSantis has been a vocal supporter of the bill and is expected to sign it soon.

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    “I will not allow a woke corporation based in California to run our state,” DeSantis wrote in a fundraising email on Wednesday. “Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long.”

    Disney World is built on ground covering Orange County and Osceola County, and local governments would be required to step in and pay for services that Disney currently offers. Scott Randolph, tax collector for Orange County, said that residents will likely see an increase in property taxes of around 20%. Additionally, Reedy Creek Improvement District is currently carrying nearly a billion dollars in debt, which will be transferred to the counties.

    The Reedy Creek Improvement District is one of a number of business-friendly districts in Florida, including around Daytona International Speedway and The Villages, the senior-living community near Orlando. Florida’s new bill eliminates all special districts created before 1968, a date chosen to target Disney while leaving most of the other such districts alone.

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    The bill came in response to a statement from Disney criticizing the passage of House Bill 1557 — officially called the “Parental Rights in Education” bill, though more commonly called “Don’t Say Gay” — which prohibits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in some elementary school grades, with language that seems designed to punish gay and trans teachers.

    Disney initially tried to stay neutral on the subject, but after a staff revolt over reports that the House of Mouse had donated to lawmakers supporting the bill, CEO Bob Chapek signaled a change in direction. A spokesperson said, “Our goal as a company is for this law to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts, and we remain committed to supporting the national and state organizations working to achieve that. We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”

    Disney’s stance has made it a target for homophobes and other right-wing loonies. Last weekend, protesters attempted to blockade Disney World, though they forgot about the park’s other entrances.

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