New York CNN  — 

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

The Walt Disney Company, a longtime engine of Florida’s economy, now finds itself in a disorienting position: Enemy of Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis.

And let’s be clear about the root cause: Resistance to LGBTQ equality.

The impending removal of Walt Disney World’s special tax district is wrapped up in anti-big business rhetoric. But the chain of events that led to “DeSantis versus Disney” began with the Florida GOP’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Homophobia and hate are right underneath the surface of the high-minded talking points about “parental rights in education.”

Of course parents have rights-—but right-wing media stars and conservative lawmakers are galvanizing viewers and voters by demonizing transgender teachers and condemning inclusive Disney shows.

The most incendiary commentators throw around terms like “child abuse” and accuse opponents of “grooming” kids for sexual predation, sometimes by taking a teacher’s comments grossly out of context, or acting like one outspoken educator represents an entire profession.

It is a conservative backlash to growing acceptance of gay and transgender people, with entire networks and websites programming to a fear that conservative beliefs are being trampled on.

“We’re seeing these issues weaponized all over the country,” Democratic political strategist David Axelrod said on CNN Wednesday night.

Florida is one of the focal points. When Republicans in the state pushed the “parental rights” bill that came to be known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law earlier this year, a wide variety of opponents said the law could hurt the LGBTQ community by creating a chilling effect.

Disney (DIS), the state’s largest private employer, did not initially take a public stance against the bill, which infuriated LGBTQ employees and allies.

The internal revolt prompted both an apology and an adjustment by Disney CEO Bob Chapek. His professed support for those employees and his halt to political donations in Florida provoked stark criticism from Republicans in the state.

That’s when state lawmakers took aim at the unique status that lets Disney operate as an independent government around its Orlando-area theme parks.

Taking cues from DeSantis, the GOP-controlled state Senate voted to eliminate Disney’s privileges on Wednesday and the state House voted the same way on Thursday.

It is a move “widely seen as retaliation” by DeSantis and his loyalists, Brooks Barnes of The New York Times wrote.

The “Don’t Say Gay” undercurrent is undeniable. Florida Republican state Rep. Randy Fine, who sponsored the tax district bill, said on Wednesday’s “CNN Tonight” that Disney “has tried to import California values into Florida.”

Fine also implored the company to remember that “they are a guest in our state” and said “if you want special privileges, you’d better be on your best behavior.” The expected change would not take effect until June 2023, more than a year from now. That means Disney will have a lot of time and room to negotiate.

Disney, seeing no upside in commenting, has remained silent about the matter.

But DeSantis, sensing a political advantage as he plots a 2024 presidential run, is unlikely to let up. “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy,” he asserted in a campaign fundraising email on Wednesday.

Further reading

– Kadia Goba’s framing for BuzzFeed News: “Florida Republicans are trying to change the narrative around their push to end special incentives for Disney by saying they’re protecting free markets, a shift away from what they’ve explicitly said it’s about in the past: retaliation against the company’s support of LGBTQ rights…”

– Colby Itkowitz has a story about this on the front page of Thursday’s Washington Post. “The rapid escalation in public support for the LGBTQ community’s rights in recent years had quieted much of the blatant homophobia in the nation’s political discourse,” Itkowitz wrote. “But, in recent weeks, Republicans have reverted to verbal and legal assaults on the community, sometimes employing baseless tropes that suggest children are being groomed or recruited by defenders of gay rights.” In short: Call Democrats criminals, garner right-wing media coverage, raise money, win elections…