What Disney's Orange Bird Logo Says about Corporate Support and the LGBTQ MovementRoundup
tags: civil rights, Florida, Disney, LGBTQ history, Anita Bryant
Julio Capó Jr. is an associate professor of history and public humanities at Florida International University, the author of Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami before 1940 and an editor of Made by History.
Last week, reports confirmed that Walt Disney World in Orlando would host the Out & Equal Workplace summit in September, the “largest LGBTQ+ conference in the world,” with participants pressing for LGBTQ equality in the workplace. The report came after Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill in February that puts the state in control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a unique governing body that had given Disney the ability to largely regulate itself in Central Florida.
A shift in control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District is believed to be a form of retaliation after Disney leaders spoke out against the DeSantis-backed law popularly known by critics as “don’t say gay.” While Disney’s then-chief executive Bob Chapek hesitated to speak out against that bill at first, he later did. When Chapek left the company in November, Bob Iger, a longtime Disney CEO, returned to the helm. Under Iger, the corporation joined LGBTQ advocates in calling the law discriminatory. The law passed despite the condemnation, and DeSantis called Disney’s public position on the issue an example of “corporate wokeness.”
But DeSantis is correct that Disney has become more vocal over the years in support of LGBTQ rights, a departure from the corporation’s historical engagement with anti-gay politics. To better understand the fraught relationship between the changing face of corporate activism today, we should look no further than to the creation of one of Disney’s most beloved cartoon characters: Orange Bird.
In 1967, Republican Gov. Claude Kirk supported an agreement between Disney and Florida to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District to boost the tourist dollars that Disney’s new theme park would bring to the state.
The following year, Disney entered negotiations to establish a partnership with the Florida Citrus Commission — a board appointed by the governor to represent the interest of the state’s citrus growers and processors. In October 1969, representatives from Florida and its citrus interests, including Kirk and Disney leaders, accompanied by someone dressed as Mickey Mouse, signed a $2.2 million contract. Florida citrus interests would help pay for a Polynesian-style pavilion that which would become the “Enchanted Tiki Room,” featuring a tropical bird and music show, as well as a “Sunshine Tree Terrace.” The contract required Disney to serve Florida citrus products at all Walt Disney World dining sites.
Kirk heralded the move as a powerful union between the state and business, hoping others would “take heed” of how two of the state’s biggest economic engines — tourism and agriculture — came together to benefit Florida, just as he had envisioned a couple of years earlier when he supported the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.