Disney Battles Group Seeking Protection for 'Ex-Gays'

A controversial group is asking Walt Disney Co. (DIS) shareholders to vote for a proposal to adopt non-discrimination language against "ex-gays" at the company's annual meeting in March. Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays & Gays, or PFOX, says Disney's exclusion of "ex-gay" language from the company's employment policies and diversity training discriminates against those who choose to "leave" homosexuality, according to a preliminary filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.PFOX says Disney's policies supports gays, lesbians, and bisexuals but excludes support of ex-gays. The Group says the addendum is necessary because "ex-gays and their supporters are subject to an increasingly hostile environment because they live out or support a different view of homosexuality," according to the filing.

A Change of Orientation

Disney is urging shareholders to vote against the proposal, telling investors in the filing that its policies "provide broad and appropriate protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation" and saying it would be inappropriate to amend its policy "to address the specific situation." Reached by phone, Disney declined further comment, saying it stands by its comments contained within the proxy statement.

The concept PFOX supports -- "reparative therapy," by which gays and lesbians supposedly become attracted to the opposite sex through prayer and therapy -- has shown little evidence of success, according to the American Psychological Association. The APA issued a statement in August saying that rigorous scientific studies have shown "that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose."

An Absurd Proposal?

PFOX's proposal is absurd, said Wayne Bessen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit watchdog that monitors groups supporting reparative therapy. PFOX, Bessen says, is a religious group that's asking Disney to prohibit discrimination against a group of people for something they're not, he said. Moreover, Bessen said, as straight people, ex-gays couldn't be discriminated against under Disney's current policies.

The proposal made its way onto the filing after the SEC said the proposal should be allowed to be considered by shareholders despite Disney's objections. "What the [SEC] has said is that Disney must let this shareholder resolution go forward" and be voted upon, said Daryl Herrschaft, director of the workplace project at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, a civil-rights organization.

Herrschaft called the plan to amend Disney's policies "wrongheaded" but added that such efforts aren't unusual. There have been cases in which conservative, anti-gay groups have put forth shareholder resolutions to remove protections based on sexual orientation contained within company policies, he said. Still, PFOX's effort is novel in that it seeks to add a class of people.

Disney, based in Burbank, Calif., is among 305 companies that have earned a perfect score under HRC's 2010 Corporate Equality Index, a measure of employment policies that extend benefits to and prohibit discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender workers. The entertainment company has earned a score of 100 for the past four years by adhering to such objectives as offering domestic-partner benefits and using inclusive language in marketing and promotional materials.
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