Joe Harding returns Disney campaign contributions
Joe Harding

Joe Harding
The entertainment monolith and Republican leadership have been at odds because over a bill on LGBTQ instruction in schools.

Williston Republican Rep. Joe Harding announced Tuesday that his campaign has returned all political contributions from Disney and its affiliates in response to the entertainment giant’s public stance on HB 1557 — legislation sponsored by Harding that has garnered national attention and has been dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics.

Since January 2021, Disney has donated a total of $3,000 to the freshman lawmaker in $1,000 increments — the max an entity or individual can donate. Those contributions were made by Disney Gift Card Services, Disney Photo Imaging and Disney Destinations LLC. The corporation also provided a $126 in-kind donation for food and drinks related to a campaign event. Harding’s affiliated political committee, Conservative Coalition, does not appear to have received donations from Disney. Florida Politics confirmed the amount with a spokesperson from Harding’s campaign.

Harding’s refund follows Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signing of the Parental Rights in Education bill Monday, which prompted harsh criticism from Disney. The corporation immediately came out with a statement after the bill signing, saying the legislation “should never have been passed and should never have been signed into law.”

The entertainment monolith and Republican leadership have been at odds during the last few weeks because of the bill.

The controversial legislation governs classroom instruction on LGBTQ matters. Specifically, the bill limits classroom instruction on “sexual orientation and gender identity,” a move Republican leadership says would bolster parental rights. The bill follows up on last year’s “Parental Bill of Rights,” which said public schools cannot infringe on the “fundamental rights” of parents to direct the upbringing of their child.

“I’m disappointed to see Disney speak out against this legislation, which is now Florida law,” Harding said in a statement.

“As a company whose primary audiences are young children and families, Disney has let us down through their complicity with the false narratives pushed by liberal media, who have repeatedly mischaracterized the content of my legislation. Some radical elements of our society are embracing an idea that parents are unsuited to be parents and that schools have a primary role in determining when and how young children are exposed to sexual topics. I invite Disney to reconsider its position and join forces with those of us who support parents first.”

The measure would ban classroom “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity” for students in kindergarten through third grade, or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The legislation does not restrict the topics from being barred across all ages if the school district deems the instruction age-inappropriate.

Parents who think a classroom discussion was not age-appropriate or who are unsupportive of a district’s policies would be able to sue for damages and attorneys fees.

Disney initially came under fire from Democrats for not taking a stronger stance against the controversial bill as it progressed through Tallahassee. During that time, the bill picked up vocal opposition, including hours of impassioned debate and protest from students. It even garnered national flak, from the White House to Sunday night’s Oscar ceremony. The Governor slammed bill opponents at the signing Monday, saying those who disagree with the legislation “support sexualizing kids in kindergarten.”

Notably, Disney is one of the state’s largest employers and carries political weight in the Legislature, making significant donations to Republican leadership and some Democrats.

“Disney has long been a pillar of the Florida economy and provides family-friendly entertainment for both Floridians and tourists of every nation,” Harding continued. “But their rejection of common sense, parents-first principles gives me no other choice but to return their donations. No matter the cost, I will continue to fight for the children in our school systems and their families.”

In addition to instructional guidelines, the legislation also would limit confidentiality between students and school personnel, requiring that a school district “may not adopt procedures or student support forms that prohibit school district personnel from notifying a parent about his or her student’s mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being, or a change in related services or monitoring, or that encourage or have the effect of encouraging a student to withhold from a parent such information.”

School personnel only are permitted to withhold such information from a parent “if a reasonably prudent person would believe that disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect,” the bill reads.

There is already talk of a lawsuit to overturn the legislation. Equality Florida, one of the state’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organizations, announced the group is looking to pursue legal action against the legislation after its passage in the Senate.

The legislation is set to take effect July 1, before the start of the new school year.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected].


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