Charlee Disney, one of the heirs of The Walt Disney Co., came out publicly as transgender and condemned anti-LGBTQ bills in a recent interview.
Disney, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, announced that their family would match up to $250,000 in donations to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, during the organization’s annual gala in Los Angeles last month.
Roy P. Disney, Disney’s father and the grandson of the company’s co-founder, upped that amount to $500,000 last week.
“Equality matters deeply to us,” Roy P. Disney said in a statement, according to the Los Angeles Times, “especially because our child, Charlee, is transgender and a proud member of the LGBTQ+ community.”
The older Disney also said the family was “heartbroken” when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill because it prohibits classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity with students in grades K-3 or in a way deemed developmentally or age inappropriate.
Charlee Disney, 30, a high school biology and environmental science teacher, told the L.A. Times that the HRC gala was sort of a public coming out for them, since they had come out privately as trans four years ago.
Disney said that even though they have a lot of support and privilege, their journey has been difficult.
“I had very few openly gay role models,” Disney said. “And I certainly didn’t have any trans or nonbinary role models. I didn’t see myself reflected in anyone, and that made me feel like there was something wrong with me.”
Disney, who told the Times that they don’t have much experience with public speaking or advocacy, lamented that they “don’t do very much to help.”
“I don’t call senators or take action,” they said. “I felt like I could be doing more.”
They condemned anti-LGBTQ bills, and noted that LGBTQ kids already deal with higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and bullying.
“Then to put something like this law on top of that? They can’t learn about their community and their history at school, or play sports or use the bathroom they want to use?” they told the L.A. Times.
The Walt Disney Co. came under fire after The Orlando Sentinel reported in February that the company had donated to every sponsor and co-sponsor of the Parental Rights in Education bill. Bob Chapek, Disney’s CEO, said in a staff email last month that he and the company’s leadership “unequivocally stand” with LGBTQ employees, but he didn’t condemn the bill, arguing that corporate statements “do very little to change outcomes or minds,” CNN reported.
On March 11, after criticism from employees internally, Chapek announced that the company would pause all political donations in Florida and apologized for his first statement in a letter published on Disney’s website.
“It is clear that this is not just an issue about a bill in Florida, but instead yet another challenge to basic human rights,” he wrote. “You needed me to be a stronger ally in the fight for equal rights and I let you down. I am sorry.”
Roy P. Disney said his family wanted to make a donation in part because the Human Rights Campaign refused to accept a $5 million donation announced by Chapek last month. Joni Madison, the group’s interim president, said that HRC wants to see Disney “build on their public commitment and work with LGBTQ+ advocates to ensure that dangerous proposals, like Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ bill, don’t become dangerous laws, and if they do, to work to get them off the books.”
Sheri Disney, Charlee’s mother, said the matching donation was meant to remind people that LGBTQ children need support.
“I have a trans kid, and I love my kid no matter what,” she told the L.A. Times.