Two months before Disney Company chairman Michael Eisner said on national television the entertainment giant has no pro-homosexual agenda, his company helped underwrite a benefit reception for a homosexual rights organization at the premiere of a competing studio's movie.
The same day Disney helped sponsor the benefit, a published report said Hollywood Supports, a group for which Eisner is a trustee, had been so successful in its six years of advancing homosexual rights in the entertainment industry that it was shutting down and transferring its work to other organizations.
After the premiere of the homosexual-themed In & Out Sept. 17 in Los Angeles, the film's studio, Paramount Pictures, held a fund-raising reception for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. Disney and other companies helped sponsor the benefit, a NGLTF spokesperson confirmed to Baptist Press.
The incident is one of the latest in a series of corporate policies and entertainment products that has elicited criticism of Disney, fueling a boycott by a number of religious and pro-family organizations. The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in June urging members not to patronize Disney or other companies that promote "immoral ideologies and practices."
When Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said on the CBS news program 60 Minutes Nov. 23 Disney is "pushing a Christian-bashing, family-bashing, pro-homosexual agenda," Eisner dismissed the charge.
"Well that's ridiculous," Eisner said. "We're not pushing any agenda. We are pushing in our corporate marketplace tolerance and understanding, expansiveness. We are totally onto an ethical compass, a moral compass."
At least some evangelical and pro-family observers of Disney found Eisner's denial unconvincing.
"It's just ridiculous," said Peter LaBarbera, an analyst for the Washington-based Family Research Council and a veteran observer of the homosexual rights movement who publishes the Lambda Report on Homosexuality. "He's just dissembling, as they have to. ... (T)here certainly is a homosexual agenda. And he can deny it all he wants, but I don't think anyone is going to buy it."
Land called the fund-raiser "yet one more of the multitudinous examples of Mr. Eisner's and Disney's commitment to the homosexual agenda."
"Anyone who looks at the sheer volume of evidence documenting Disney's seismic corporate shift to a pro-homosexual, Christian-bashing agenda under Mr. Eisner's chairmanship would be forced to conclude that there is an agenda whether one agrees with it or not," Land said. "There is a difference between diversity and deviancy, and between moral and amoral, and sadly Mr. Eisner's compass is too askew to discern the difference."
A phone call to Disney's corporate communications office seeking comment was not returned.
Disney was not the only studio to sponsor the September fund-raiser for NGLTF, task force development director Sonya Shields told Baptist Press, but it was the only one cited in a news release from the homosexual rights group. According to the NGLTF release, Disney and Creative Artists Agency "made significant contributions to the (NGLTF) through the premiere benefit."
Three or four other studios sponsored the benefit, but Sony Pictures was the only one Shields would identify.
In & Out is a comedy about a high school drama teacher, played by actor Kevin Kline, who is "outed" on national TV by a former student who receives an Academy Award. The teacher, who is preparing to marry his longtime girlfriend, denies he is homosexual but eventually decides he is after all when he is kissed passionately by a homosexual news reporter, played by Tom Selleck. In 1997, the movie grossed more than $60 million in theaters in this country.
On the same day In & Out premiered, a report in Daily Variety said Hollywood Supports would close and moves its programs on workplace issues involving homosexuality and AIDS to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and AIDS Project Los Angeles, respectively. Hollywood Supports planned to shut down in early 1998, according to the report.
"We are proud of how quickly and dramatically this industry changed," said the group's co-founders, Home Shopping Network owner Barry Diller and MCA CEO Sid Sheinberg, in a written statement. "We are proud and honored by the role that Hollywood Supports, through our trustees, staff and volunteers, and other supporters, has been able to play in these changes."
Eisner and Joe Roth, chairman of Walt Disney Motion Pictures, have served as Hollywood Supports trustees, along with such directors as Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard, and Oliver Stone and such actors as Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Kevin Costner, Goldie Hawn, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Robin Williams.
According to Hollywood Supports, its blueprint for extending health benefits to the same-sex partners of employees has been adopted by studios such as MCA/Universal, Warner Bros., Sony, and Paramount, as well as corporations such as Time, Inc., William Morris, and Ticket Master. Disney extended health benefits to the partners of its homosexual employees in 1995.
Diller told how Disney joined the domestic partners bandwagon in a report in a 1996 issue of The Advocate, a leading magazine for homosexuals.
"I remember discussing domestic partnership with Disney at a meeting where Michael Eisner said, 'We can't be out in front of an issue like this, but when it's over 50 percent (referring to the percentage of Hollywood companies that offer such policies), that would be the right frame for the Walt Disney Company because of the connotation that Disney is in the majority,'" Diller said. "I said that was fair and reasonable. And when we passed that mark, there was his company saying yes."
Among other actions cited by Disney critics as evidence of the company's increasing support of homosexual rights are:
• cooperation with homosexuals holding "Gay Days" at its theme parks, though the company does not sponsor the events;
• publication of books promoting homosexuality, such as Growing Up Gay, through subsidiaries;
• distribution of homosexual-themed movies such as Priest and Chicks in White Satin through subsidiaries;
• the "coming out" of the lead character on Disney-owned ABC's show Ellen.
The dramatic change at Disney in its movie and television products was acknowledged by a company insider in an April issue of The Advocate. "Old Walt would be spinning in his grave if he could see some of the stuff we're putting out today," said a Touchstone Pictures executive who asked to remain anonymous, according to the report. "Gay people didn't exist as far as Walt Disney was concerned. They just weren't wholesome."
Touchstone is a subsidiary of Disney.
At this year's "Gay Day" at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., a homosexual "family" of seven men and women was included in the mid-day "Disneymania" show in front of Cinderella's Castle, a Washington-based homosexual newspaper reported. They were chosen when they walked in the gates together, one of the men told The Washington Blade. "When they appeared as the tenth family on stage during the performance, the crowd of people in a sea of red shirts watching the musical salute let go an enormous roar of approval," according to the report.
Many homosexuals wear red shirts to the event, which is seven years old at Disney World.
LaBarbera, who attended this year's "Gay Day" at Disney World, said while Disney is not sponsoring the event, it is "surely not doing anything to discourage it." He said he saw lots of parents who were disheartened the event was occurring with their families in the park.
When Your Child Asks For Disney
Keith Thornton's six-year-old daughter didn't at first understand why Sleeping Beauty couldn't be added to the family's video library.
Thornton, a chiropractor from Sevierville, Tenn., is participating in the boycott of The Disney Company over films, books, and practices by the entertainment giant which, according to boycott supporters among Southern Baptists and other Christians, reflect an anti-family and/or pro-homosexual agenda.
Thornton, in the November issue of Focus on the Family's Citizen magazine, recounted that he talked about the boycott with his daughter — "not about homosexuals and gays, but the fact that the company represents some things that are not godly, and they won't get any more of our money."
Thornton's approach drew affirmation from Tim Geare, a private-practice family counselor in Colorado Springs, Colo., and columnist for Focus on the Family's youth culture newsletter, Plugged In.
"A young child won't understand concern over Disney's support of homosexuality," Geare told Citizen, "but he would understand that (Disney CEO) Michael Eisner is doing things that displease God."
Geare counseled parents against being too zealous over Disney items already in the home.
"There's no point ripping a Pooh stuffed animal out of the arms of a three-year-old," he said. "If Disney already has your money, there's no point in setting fire to the items you already have."
But to requests for more Disney toys, such as Pooh's pal Tigger, Geare advised, "You redirect the child, using the same process as you would when the child sees candy in a grocery store. You can acknowledge that Tigger is fun, but gently assert that you won't be buying the Tigger item today."
Focus on the Family joined the Disney boycott in late August. Initiated in 1995 by the American Family Association, the boycott gained momentum after messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention joined the initiative during their annual meeting last June in Dallas.