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Florida and Texas governors face business backlash over anti-LGBTQ moves

The governors of Florida and Texas are sparring with big business as some companies voice objections to new measures targeting LGBTQ rights in both states.

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis called Walt Disney Co. “woke” after his muted objection to a bill that would ban classroom talk about sexual orientation and gender identity with kids in kindergarten through third grade. The Republican directed his ire at one of the largest employers in his state after Disney CEO Bob Chapek reversed course and came out publicly against the measure at his company’s annual meeting with shareholders.

Disney opposed the bill from the start, but thought it best to oppose it behind the scenes, according to Chapek, who said he called DeSantis to express “concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families.” Disney will review how it approaches advocacy and “political giving in Florida and beyond,” Chapek added.

The “Parental Rights in Education” measure, derided by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed the Florida senate earlier this week and is expected to be signed by DeSantis, who supports the bill.

“We are going to make sure parents are able to send their kids to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum,” DeSantis said at a press conference Monday.

Described as “hateful” by President Biden and US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the bill prompted dozens of middle and high schools across Florida to stage walkouts over the bill.

fight over gender

Another fight over LGBTQ rights is playing out in Texas, where companies including Apple, Alphabet, Johnson & Johnson, Macy’s and REI have signed onto an ad condemning an order by Gov. Greg Abbott that equates gender-affirming health care for transgender adolescents to child abuse. “Discrimination is bad for business,” declared the digital ads and full-page advertisement in Friday’s Dallas Morning News.

The Republican governor’s February 22 directive requires teachers and medical professions to report to child protective services parents who help their children get treatments such as puberty-suppressing drugs and hormones. The treatments to help align the adolescents’ bodies with their gender identities have the backing of major medical groups, including the American Medical Association.

Abbott’s order also prompted the parents of a 16-year-old girl to sue over being investigated by the Department of Family and Protective Services. A district judge on Friday was holding a hearing on whether the state should be allowed to continue such probes involving transgender teens.

Apple CEO Tim Cook said in a tweet on Thursday that he is “deeply concerned about laws being enacted across our country, particularly those focused on our vulnerable youth.”

Bids by businesses to pressure states are not unprecedented. Under prior CEO Bob Iger, Disney at times weighed in on state legislation, threatening to stop filming in Georgia, for instance, if the state’s restrictive abortion bill became law.

And North Carolina faced a corporate outcry after state lawmakers passed a measure in 2016 requiring people to use public bathrooms that aligned with the gender listed on their birth certificates.

However, as DeSantis showed in his dismissal of Disney, such confrontations can play both ways. Target’s policy of letting transgender customers and employees use the bathroom of their choice drew a rebuke from Texas officials at the time, who demanded to know how the retailer would protect “women and children from those who would use the cover of Target’s restroom policy for nefarious purposes.”

Florida also stands to lose a technology and media conference set for next year in Miami due to what tech journalist Kara Swisher calls “an unnecessary piece of legislation that addresses a non-problem meant to mask homophobia with an emotional blanket of parental rights.” Swisher, who is gay and is the co-host of the Vox Media Pivot podcast, tagged Colorado Governor Jared Polis, also gay, tweeting that she would be in touch.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.