Michelle Goldberg: the right is crazy about Disney
I don’t know Latoya Raveneau, but I feel bad for her. An executive producer at Disney, she was a speaker at a recent company virtual meeting on Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Inside Disney, there had been considerable anger that the company, one of the largest employers in the state, had donated to the politicians behind the bill and not done more for the combat. Ms. Raveneau stepped in to defend the company’s gay friendliness, only to become a national object of right-wing fury and loathing.
In a video call, Ms Raveneau spoke of her initial apprehension about taking a job at Disney, fearing she wouldn’t be allowed to include gay characters in the projects she was working on. Instead, she said, everyone she worked with welcomed her “not secretly gay at all,” allowing her to add “queerness” to the animated show she leads, a cover of a first series entitled “The Proud Family”.
The results of Ms. Raveneau’s diary seem mildly innocuous. The show’s main character, Penny Proud, has a flamboyant gay friend who has to deal with bullying, and another character has gay fathers. There have been reports of the groundbreaking nature of the show in the entertainment press, but as far as I can tell it hasn’t caused much controversy, if any. Then conservative activist Christopher Rufo stepped in.
Mr. Rufo obtained a video of the town hall meeting and he presented excerpts of Ms. Raveneau’s remarks, as well as those of several other Disney executives, as evidence that Disney sexualizes children. The story exploded to the right, where Ms. Raveneau’s archaic reference to a gay agenda is treated as an admission that she has a plan to corrupt the children.
“That’s not programming, that’s grooming propaganda,” hissed Laura Ingraham of Fox. “Disney doesn’t just groom kids with radical sex propaganda — now they’re bragging about it,” a writer for The Federalist said. Ms Raveneau has landed in the midst of a resurgent moral panic, which combines elements of QAnon with old tropes about gay predators.
When I spoke to Mr. Rufo on Thursday, he was candid that he wanted to punish Disney for bowing to pressure from employees to oppose the Florida law. “Perhaps the lesson they are learning – and certainly the lesson they should be learning – is that they should stay out of politics,” he said.
Until recently, Mr. Rufo was best known for his work mobilizing the right against critical race theory. But lately, he and the movement he helped catalyze have turned their attention to gender and sexual identity. He thinks there are a lot of latent concerns among parents about changing ideas about gender, and he intends to capitalize on that. “I think there’s an opportunity to do the reporting, to build the narrative, the same way critical race theory does,” he said.
Mr. Rufo’s work has helped inspire a wave of state legislation limiting how teachers can talk about race, history and current affairs, under the guise of banning critical race theory. Now, a new wave of legislation is targeting what teachers can say about LGBTQ issues.
The most notorious of these new laws is Florida’s HB 1557, the “Don’t Say Gay” law, which prohibits classroom teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity for children below the fourth grade. grade, and any such instruction that is not “age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate” for older students. Texas abortion, allowing individual parents to sue for damages and recoup attorneys’ fees if they win What constitutes “classroom instruction” is unclear, but many fear it could include any mention of gay or transgender people, including students’ families.Governor Ron DeSantis signed it last week.
To justify the law, the right has taken to accusing anyone who opposes it of wanting to expose young children to explicit material in order to prepare them for abuse. On Twitter, Mr DeSantis’ publicist wrote: “If you’re against the anti-grooming bill you’re probably a groomer or at least not speaking out against the grooming of 4-8 year olds. QAnon’s idea that the right-wing political opposition is a cabal of pedophiles has become mainstream.
This is of course not the first time that homosexuals and gender non-conforming people have been presented as a moral threat to children. In 1977, Anita Bryant, former beauty queen and spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission, launched the Save Our Children anti-gay campaign. “Gay people can’t reproduce, so they have to recruit,” she said. “And to refresh their ranks, they must recruit American youth.”
In recent years, the Republican Party has largely avoided this language, appearing to make peace with the presence of gays, lesbians and transgender people in public life. Now such rhetoric is back, and it is potentially explosive.
Companies’ most valuable asset is their brand, Mr. Rufo said, “and we’re going to start eroding it.” In the Disney reunion video Mr. Rufo posted, Ms. Raveneau raved about the freedom she was given to portray queer characters. But the price of that freedom has just risen, and it remains to be seen whether Disney will be willing to pay it.
Michelle Goldberg (Twitter: @michelleinbklyn) is a columnist for The New York Timeswhere this coin originally appeared.