Disney, Ron DeSantis allies settle 2-year legal battle after company's opposition to 'Don't Say Gay' law

Disney accused Florida's governor of retaliating against it — specifically targeting Disney World's future development — after ex-CEO Bob Chapek slammed the bill in 2022.

After two years of legal contention sparked by Disney's support for the LGBTQIA+ community, the Walt Disney World Resort and allies of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have reached a settlement to end their bitter court battle.

A meeting between board members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — which Disney previously controlled — ended with approval of the settlement, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

In documents obtained by Entertainment Weekly, the settlement outlines Disney's agreement to "dismiss with prejudice" its lawsuit against the district, bringing "permanent closure" and "barring any future claims on the same matter," while all parties agreed to a "full and final resolution of the matters addressed" in the state lawsuit.

"The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was created to bring public accountability and transparency to one of Florida’s most important destinations. We're proud of the landmark work the District has accomplished and look forward to what lies ahead," CFTOD vice chairman Charbel Barakat told EW in a statement. "With this agreement, we're eager to work with Disney and other businesses within central Florida to make our destination known for world-class attractions and accountable governance."

A spokesperson for DeSantis, Bryan Griffin, also provided a statement to EW. "We are glad that Disney has dropped its lawsuits against the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and conceded that their last-minute development agreements are null, void, and unenforceable. No corporation should be its own government," the statement reads. "Moving forward, we stand ready to work with Disney and the District to help promote economic growth, family-friendly tourism, and accountable government in central Florida."

In a statement reported by the Disney-owned ABC News, Walt Disney World Resort president Jeff Vahle said, "This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district, and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the state."

EW has reached out to representatives for Walt Disney World for comment.

<p>Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty; Scott Olson/Getty</p> Disney World; Ron DeSantis

Roberto Machado Noa/LightRocket via Getty; Scott Olson/Getty

Disney World; Ron DeSantis

Tension between DeSantis and Disney arose in March 2022, after then-CEO Bob Chapek denounced a conservative push to introduce the anti-LGBTQIA+ initiative unofficially dubbed the "Don't Say Gay" bill (formally titled House Bill 1557, or the Parental Rights in Education bill) that passed through the Florida Senate at the time, despite Disney drawing criticism for not speaking out against the legislation sooner. The company ultimately signed a Human Rights Organization statement opposing similar efforts around the country and pledging $5 million to groups working to ensure LGBTQ+ protections.

"While we've been strong supporters of the community for decades, I know that many are upset that we did not speak out against the bill," said Chapek, who also indicated he voiced his concerns to DeSantis in a phone call, at a shareholders meeting. "We were opposed to the bill from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind the scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. And we were hopeful that our longstanding relationships with those lawmakers would enable us to achieve a better outcome. But, despite weeks of effort, we were ultimately unsuccessful."

In a move widely seen as retaliation for Disney's response to the "Don't Say Gay" bill, DeSantis commandeered the district and appointed new board members, which led Disney to sue the political figure, though that suit was dismissed in January. DeSantis had previously suggested other measures that Disney interpreted as retaliatory, including an April 2023 idea to build "another state prison" near the Disney World property, just outside Orlando.

The "Don't Say Gay" bill prohibited discussions about sexuality and gender identity in schools, stipulating that they "may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards," which many interpreted as targeting the queer community under the false presumption that LGBTQIA+ people are predators.

Other recent anti-LGBTQIA+ laws proposed throughout the country have drawn heavy criticism, with stars of RuPaul's Drag Race and The Boulet Brothers' Dragula speaking out against political operations targeting the trans community and that sought to restrict drag shows in states like Texas and Tennessee.

RuPaul said of the legislation in a 2023 statement, "We know that bullies are incompetent at solving real issues. They look for easy targets so they can give the impression of being effective. They think our love, our light, our laughter, and our joy are signs of weakness, but they're wrong, because that is our strength. Drag queens are the marines of the queer movement. Don't get it twisted and don't be distracted. Register to vote so we can get these stunt queens out of office and put some smart people with real solutions into government."

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