Disney governing district in Florida axes diversity and inclusion programmes as DeSantis row with company rages

Diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at Walt Disney World’s governing district have been abolished by appointees of Florida governor Ron DeSantis. This move aligns with DeSantis’ agenda, which aims to curtail such programs in higher education and other sectors. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District announced the elimination of its diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, as well as any job duties associated with it. Additionally, initiatives that promoted racial or gender parity, implemented during Disney’s control of the district, have also been axed.

Glenton Gilzean, the district’s new administrator, who is African American and a former head of the Central Florida Urban League, referred to these initiatives as “illegal and simply un-American”. Gilzean has affiliations with conservative institutions such as the James Madison Institute and the American Enterprise Institute Leadership Network, and he was appointed by DeSantis to the Florida Commission on Ethics. In a statement, Gilzean emphasized that their district will no longer participate in any efforts to divide people by race or imply that they are not created equal. He believes that their community can thrive only when they work together despite their differences.

Disney World has not yet commented on the matter. It is worth noting that earlier this year, DeSantis signed into law a measure that prohibits public colleges from using federal or state funding for diversity programs. He has also championed Florida’s “Stop WOKE” law, which prohibits businesses, colleges, and K-12 schools from providing training on certain racial concepts, such as the idea that individuals of a specific race are inherently racist, privileged, or oppressed. However, a federal judge blocked the enforcement of this law in colleges, universities, and businesses, deeming it “positively dystopian.”

The district, previously known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, was crucial in Disney’s decision to build a theme park resort near Orlando in the 1960s. The creation of a separate government allowed the company to oversee zoning, fire protection, utilities, and infrastructure services on its vast property. For more than five decades, the district was under the control of Disney supporters.

However, following a yearlong feud between the company and DeSantis, his appointees gained control of the renamed district earlier this year. The conflict began when Disney publicly opposed a state law that banned discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in early-grade classrooms. In response, DeSantis took over the district through legislation and appointed a new board of supervisors to manage municipal services for the theme parks and hotels. Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees, alleging a violation of the company’s free speech rights. Prior to the new board’s arrival, Disney had made agreements with previous oversight board members, who were Disney supporters, to restrict the authority of the new supervisors over design and development. The DeSantis-appointed members of the governing district have filed a second lawsuit against Disney in state court, seeking to invalidate these agreements.

Overall, the elimination of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs at Walt Disney World’s governing district reflects Governor DeSantis’ broader agenda and has sparked controversy and legal battles between the company and the state government.

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