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Disney Fires Bob Chapek, Rehires Bob Iger After 'Don't Say Gay' Mess

Bob Chapek and Bob Iger
Bob Chapek (L) and Bob Iger

The CEO change-up happened after Disney suffered from PR and company debacles following the passage of Florida's "don't say gay" law.

Disney fired CEO Bob Chapek after less than two years on the job and brought back former CEO Bob Iger.

That comes after missteps on public issues, most notably a failure to oppose Florida's "don't say gay" law early. That prompted Chapek in March to publicly apologize to its employees and cease all political donations.

Variety reported late Sunday that the world's largest media company had abruptly decided to reinstall Iger and dump Chapek. Iger stepped down as CEO in February 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic dramatically impacted the operations of theme parks around the globe.

"We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic," said Susan Arnold, chairman of Disney's board of directors, in a statement.

"The Board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the Company through this pivotal period."

The change in leadership prompted an immediate jump in stock price for the company.

Numerous reports about the shift noted Chapek's handling of widely criticized "don't say gay" legislation passed in Florida, signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in March. Disney had donated to DeSantis' campaign and to numerous lawmakers who sponsored the bill. But the company did not take a public stance against the bill until after the Florida Legislature had passed it.

Chapek ultimately had to issue a public response to outcry, which ran in The Hollywood Reporter.

"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."

But after Disney publicly vowed to help repeal the bill, either in the Legislature or in court challenges, DeSantis and the Legislature took steps to strip the company of its self-governing ability on its Florida properties.

In the midst of the "don't say gay" controversy, Chapek pledged $5 million in donations to the Human Rights Campaign and other LGBTQ+ groups.

The company internally also had showrunners and other executives promise in video conferences with employees to promote representation for LGBTQ+ characters in shows as part of a "not-so-secret" gay agenda. Video of those sessions were also leaked to right-wing outlets, generating a new-round of push and pull between pro- and anti-LGBTQ+ voices.

Notably, Iger never shied from politics. He firmly criticized the "don't say gay" bill as "potentially harmful to kids." Disney under Iger also provided support to the Orlando community after the Pulse nightclub shooting, something the former and new CEO discussed in his book "The Ride of a Lifetime." Two Disney employees died in the 2016 attack on the gay club.

Notably, Disney under Iger's last 15-year stint as CEO fully embraced annual celebrations at parks such as Gay Days.

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