This month is National Pride Month. For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a month set aside like others have been to make an effort to recognize the work and contributions of an underrepresented group. The history that many of us have learned is full of white, heterosexual men who apparently did absolutely anything that ever mattered. There has been a push to rectify this perception and bring other facets of our history into the forefront. Pride Month focuses on the lives of LGBTQIA+ people whose stories need to be told. It joins the ranks of African American History Month, National Women’s History Month, Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, and National Hispanic Heritage Month. And just like all those other months, members of the majority culture are whining. This complaint is nothing new to marginalized communities, but it seems the push back against the LGBTQIA+ community is particularly strident and Disney is no stranger to that vitriol.
Cast back your mind a little over 20 years ago. The big news of June was that the Southern Baptist Convention (following the lead of the American Family Association and Focus on the Family), the legislative group of the largest Protestant denomination in the US announced a boycott of all things Disney. Movies, parks, merchandise, television (including ABC) — it was all off limits to good Southern Baptists. Why you may ask? There was concern that Disney was releasing inappropriate films, like ‘Pulp Fiction’ under their newer subsidiary companies. I can almost understand this except that these films weren’t marketed as Disney films or as family friendly. In fact until I started researching the history of the boycott I didn’t know two things: First, ‘Pulp Fiction’ was under the Disney umbrella and second, there was an actual complaint about content of programming. The main focus of the complaint was about the Disney Corporation’s treatment of homosexuals.
I would love to be able to say that Disney was boycotted by a church because the church objected to unfair treatment of its employees who were LGBTQIA+, that the church objected because people were being excluded from parks based on their sexuality, that the church wanted Disney to be more truthful in its storytelling by including characters who were not straight. Sadly, the church objected for all the opposite reasons. The SBC demanded that Disney stop providing benefits for same gendered partners, stop allowing “Gay Days” to take place in their parks, and to pull ‘Ellen’ from their line up. They were deeply offended by these exceedingly small nods to inclusion and called for a boycott until Disney changed its ways. They were very vocal and pretty much everyone at the time knew what happened. It was a big deal. Until it wasn’t.
Eight years later with much less volume, the boycott was ended. Why, you ask? Did Disney change its ways? Did they end “Gay Days”? Did they withdraw benefits from their employees? Did they cancel “Ellen”? Well, yes to the last one but I’m fairly certain that had to do with poor ratings. As to the rest, no, not at all. “Gay Days” not only continues, but is listed as an official event on the WDW web site. The Walt Disney Company is consistently listed as one of the best companies for LGBTQIA+ people to work for. When same sex marriage was made legal, they lit up the castle with rainbow lights to celebrate. They did not in any way accede to the boycott demands. So why then did the SBC end their boycott? If you read their press, they state that it was always intended to be a limited time boycott and it reached its end. If you read other people’s take on it, the answer is much simpler. They lost. They wielded the full power of their membership and made no difference at all. Instead of continuing in a pointless endeavor they moved on.
I suppose as a ‘good Christian’ this should bother me, but I’m afraid it doesn’t. I find that I do not find joy in a church that seeks to make groups of people less then themselves. I do not support a church that makes rules based on exclusion (at best) or hate (at worst). So I rooted to Disney in all this and was glad that they held firm to their values.
As my denomination continues to walk down this path with inclusion on one side and exclusion on the other, I hope that I might have that courage to hold firm to what I believe in spite of threats, schism, and hate. I hope that my LGBTQIA+ sisters and brothers might have reason to be as proud of me as I am of them for standing up for full inclusion. Finally I hope that I will fully trust in the Gospel of Jesus Christ that calls for us to love the outsider, reach out to those who are belittled, and welcome those who have been excluded.