On February 27, 2023, Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, signed a law restricting the special status enjoyed by Disney in the state since 1967. It is the – temporary – conclusion of a standoff initiated a year ago against the giant of the entertainment and amusement industry.
Disney World’s Special Status
Disney has enjoyed a special status in Florida for more than half a century, being granted a “special tax district,” which allows the Orlando amusement park to operate as an autonomous state.
Thanks to this status, the over 42 square miles of marshes of the early 1960s were transformed into a gigantic complex comprising 4 theme parks, 18 hotels, a shopping center, a basketball, football, volleyball, and baseball complex, and owning a large fleet of cars.
The park attracts 50 million visitors a year. It saves millions of dollars in taxes a year.
The Governor Acts
In March 2022, the Governor of Florida signed a law prohibiting teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation “in a manner inappropriate for the age or development of the student” in kindergarten classrooms and through high school.
The text indicated it wanted to “reinforce the fundamental right of parents to make decisions concerning the education and control of their children.” President Joe Biden immediately called this law “hateful.” And the Disney group published a press release which claimed that this law “should never have been signed.”
The statement even added that Disney's goal “as a company” was to work for the law to be “repealed by the legislature or struck down by the courts.” It was a challenge that Ron DeSantis immediately took up: “If Disney wants a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” he replied.
This is especially true since Governor DeSantis, who does not hide his ambitions in the race for the Republican Party presidential nomination, has made the elimination of “woke indoctrination” one of the main points of his political program. However, with Disney being one of the largest vehicles of wokism, the governor was prompted to say: “I will not allow a California-based woke company run our state.”
Indeed, the entertainment giant has become one of the most important disseminators of gender theory, a trend that has its own form of censorship. Thus, in 2021, classics such as Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, and The Aristocats were removed from the Disney platform due to “stereotyping” or “negative treatment of people or cultures.”
Florida's Orlando Center has removed the “Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls” greeting from some fireworks displays and revamped some rides, always with a “woke” focus.
An Incomplete Victory
The Governor of Florida could not, however, altogether remove the special status from Orlando's Disney World park, because doing so would have forced taxpayers in neighboring Orange and Osceola counties to bear the gigantic costs of park maintenance, and to pay its debt, estimated at nearly a billion dollars.
But Ron DeSantis has managed to bring the company under control: the district can no longer appoint the five members of its board of directors, a power that belongs to the governor who has already announced the names of the new directors. The governor concluded by saying: “Today there is a new sheriff in town, and accountability is on the agenda.”