Disney World’s Governing District Abolishes Diversity Programs: A Shift in Policy and Priorities
In a significant move, Walt Disney World’s governing district, now under the control of Gov. Ron DeSantis appointees, has abolished its diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District announced the elimination of its diversity committee and any related job duties, aligning with Gov. DeSantis’ agenda to curtail such programs in higher education and other areas.
This decision marks a departure from the previous practices of the district, which had implemented initiatives aiming to achieve racial and gender parity in awarding contracts. These initiatives were deemed “illegal and un-American” by Glenton Gilzean, the district’s new administrator, who is African American and previously led the Central Florida Urban League. Gilzean, known for his affiliations with conservative institutions and as a DeSantis appointee to the Florida Commission on Ethics, emphasized the importance of unity and collaboration in the community.
The move comes in the wake of Governor DeSantis signing a law blocking public colleges from using federal or state funding for diversity programs. He also championed the “Stop WOKE” law, which prohibits businesses, colleges, and schools from providing training on certain racial concepts. However, a federal judge had previously blocked the enforcement of this law in certain settings, describing it as “positively dystopian.”
The history of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, previously known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, is closely tied to Disney’s decision to establish a theme park resort in the 1960s. With a separate government structure, Disney had greater control over essential services and infrastructure on its extensive property. The district had been under the influence of Disney supporters for over fifty years before the recent change in governance.
The power shift occurred following a yearlong dispute between Disney and DeSantis, stemming from the company’s opposition to a state law prohibiting discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grade classrooms. This policy, commonly referred to as “Don’t Say Gay,” led to DeSantis taking control of the district through legislative action and appointing a new board of supervisors. Disney filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, claiming a violation of its free speech rights.
Before the new board took charge, Disney had reached agreements with the previous oversight board members, stripping the newly appointed supervisors of their authority over design and development. As a result, the DeSantis-appointed members filed a second lawsuit against Disney in state court to invalidate these agreements.
The removal of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs in the district reflects an ongoing debate about the role of such initiatives in society and raises questions about the future direction of diversity efforts in various sectors across Florida. While some view these programs as essential for promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities, others argue that they might perpetuate divisions based on race or gender. The decision will likely spark further discussions about the importance of diversity and how it should be approached in different contexts.