Why Florida's Governor has signed a bill punishing Disney over an LGBT+ rights law

Credit: AP

By Washington DC Producer Fred Dimbleby

Another American icon has found itself unable to avoid the country's increasingly disruptive so-called culture war.

Disney, one of the biggest companies in the world, has been punished by Florida politicians for opposing a new state law, known by its critics as 'Don't Say Gay'.

It joins the likes of Delta, Coca-Cola, and Major League Baseball who have faced potential repercussions for standing on the liberal side of America's dividing line.

In Disney's case, Florida's Governor on Friday signed into law a bill that would remove the company's decade old status to effectively self-govern its 25,000 acre theme park Disney World.

But how did Minnie and Mickey become involved in this fight?

The new legislation was not brought about by sudden discomfort among Florida Republicans about the special status of the park, but is designed as punishment for Disney's stance on a new law around LGBT+ discussions in schools.

The state of Florida and Disney have been in a fierce feud since the passage of the 'Don't Say Gay' bill, which stops schools from instructing students younger than around nine about sexual orientation or gender identity.

The law has been compared to the UK's Section 28 which was repealed in 2003.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has been a vocal backer of the 'Don't Say Gay' bill and has attacked Disney for its views on the legislation Credit: AP

Disney was originally criticised for its response to the bill but changed tack, announcing they would pause political donations in the state and later calling for the bill to be repealed.

The company's views caused intense anger among Republican politicians who say the bill gives parents more power over their children's education.

Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, an increasingly prominent figure in American politics who some predict will run for President in 2024, wrote on Wednesday that Disney had chosen the wrong person to "pick a fight" with, adding "other woke corporations won’t get away with peddling their unchecked pressure campaigns any longer."

Meanwhile, Republican State Representative Randy Fine tweeted "Disney is a guest in Florida...today, we remind them."

Disney has not yet commented on the vote, but it is a significant departure from a once close relationship between the state and the company.

Why does Disney have special status in Florida?

When Disney was planning the construction of a theme park in Florida, the company wanted independence and control to build and expand at will.

The Reedy Creek Improvement Act of 1967, passed by the state, provided a solution to the company's desire for autonomy.

One of the hotels under construction at Walt Disney World, Orlando in July 1971 Credit: AP

The law created a governmental and taxing district in the area around the park, effectively meaning Walt Disney World Resort, as it is now called, could govern itself.

The special designation gives the company significant powers over the 25,000 acre site with the district being able to issue bonds, implement building codes and run fire services.

It would, in theory, have even allowed the company to build its own nuclear power plant or airport.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District credit the special status with enabling Disney to "move ahead with its vision to turn 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land, into a global destination resort that welcomes millions of visitors every year."

What happens next?

Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on Friday but nothing will change immediately.

The law would eliminate the district and Disney's special status by June 2023.

However, there is an opening in the act for the district to be reestablished, meaning we may see further negotiation of Disney's status in the future.

The long-term impact on the company is unclear, but the entertainment giant is already suffering with its stock price falling to its lowest point in over a year.

While the company's relationship with Florida will be severely damaged by the episode, it is being offered support by other states with Democratic leaders.

Colorado Governor Jared Polis tweeted on Tuesday: "We will grant Mickey and Minnie full asylum in Colorado.

Meanwhile the Governor of California, the home of one of Disney's other major parks, said "punishing businesses for speaking out against hatred is the move of an authoritarian regime."

It is undoubtedly strange to see Governor Ron DeSantis take such a risk by attacking one of the most significant companies in his state.

But he has used culture war disputes like this one to become a force in American politics.

He may be hoping that, come the next Presidential election in 2024, these battles will take him to the top.