Disney has a decades-old reputation for attracting gay and lesbian employees. Photograph: Thomas Samson/AFP/Getty Images
With its decision to halt donations to local Boy Scout groups, Disney on Sunday joined a collection of companies to have cut ties with scouting over the organization’s ban on gay troop leaders – and made one of the first public acknowledgements of its quiet support of the LGBT community.
The Disney World theme park in Orlando is home to a gay-pride event that has inspired annual protests by conservative lobby One Million Moms, and Disney has a decades-old reputation for attracting gay and lesbian employees.
“I think that the public face is where Disney is careful not to endorse any viewpoint that would come across as overtly political,” said Frommers.com editor Jason Cochran, who has written about Disney for more than a decade and authored the travel publisher’s latest Disney guide.
Since 1991, Disney World in Orlando, Florida, has been home to Gay Day, which includes pool parties, expos and scheduled days for LGBT families to attend the park with their kids. Organizers say the nearly weeklong event attracts more than 150,000 people, who can be spotted in the park wearing bright red shirts each year in June.
“Disney walks that line between endorsing [Gay Day] and benefitting from the money,” said Cochran, who noted that the company publicly supports Christian events like the park’s annual contemporary Christian music festival Night of Joy, but has never been openly supportive of Gay Day.
This internal inclusivity is likely one powerful factor in Disney’s announcement that it will stop donating money to local Boy Scout troops in 2015 because of a recent revision to the organization’s attitude towards gay members. Last year, the Boy Scouts lifted a ban on gay youth members but reaffirmed its ban on gay leaders. That decision went into effect on 1 January.
Following the Boy Scouts announcement last year, numerous companies announced they would stop donations to the group. The Boy Scouts biggest corporate sponsor, Intel, said it was halting donations to local Boy Scout troops and councils because they violate the company’s “anti-discrimination” policy. Defense and aerospace company Lockheed Martin announced it would stop donating to the organization in December.
Disney did not make a formal announcement about its decision to stop funding and did not respond to requests for comment. Its decision to postpone donations to the Boy Scouts came to light after the group Scouts for Equality, which opposes the ban on gay leaders, posted a letter sent to a Florida council president from Disney about the decision.
The Walt Disney Company’s charitable giving guidelines say it does not support “organizations that discriminate in the provision of services unlawfully or in a manner inconsistent with Disney’s policies on the basis of race, religion, color, sex, national origin, age, marital status, mental or physical ability, or sexual orientation.”
“I think in the future – given this decision to withhold funding from the Boy Scouts – perhaps Disney is moving toward to make a more overt stamp of approval on inclusivity,” Cochran said.
Disney’s announcement comes amid a wave of rulings by federal judgessaying that bans on same-sex marriage in several traditionally conservative states are unconstitutional. Last week, Arizona governor Jan Brewer vetoed an anti-gay law that prominent companies including Apple, Marriott hotels and American airlines had warned would hurt business in the state.
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