Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently appointed Ron Peri, an Orlando-based former pastor and CEO of The Gathering, to his new oversight board in control of Disney’s special tax district. The appointment has been met with controversy after it was discovered that Peri has made derogatory remarks about the LGBTQ+ community in the past. In a January 2022 Zoom discussion, Peri baselessly claimed that tap water could be making more people gay, and called homosexuality “shameful,” linking it to disease. He also suggested that LGBTQ+ people “don’t have a stake in the future” because many do not have children, and called gay people “deviant.”
Peri’s appointment comes after Governor DeSantis signed a bill in February that allowed him to replace the district’s existing board, mostly made up of people with ties to Disney, with a five-member body that he hand-picked. The move to remove power from Disney comes almost a year after the company spoke out against a Florida bill that DeSantis later signed into law to restrict certain classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Peri’s discussions, which focused on seeing the modern world through a Biblical viewpoint, often touched on social topics. In other discussions uploaded on YouTube, Peri compared abortion to genocides like the Holocaust and linked homosexuality to the fall of the Roman Empire – a fringe historical belief occasionally pushed by some Christian activists.
DeSantis has had a long-standing battle with Disney over the Parental Rights in Education Act – which critics have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. The law bars schools from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms and in older classrooms that do not meet yet-to-be-defined standards. After Disney’s then-chairman spoke out against the bill last year, DeSantis stripped the company of its unique governing power within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special taxing district created more than half a century ago that effectively gave the entertainment giant control of what has grown to 25,000 acres around its Orlando-area theme parks.
On Monday, DeSantis changed course and signed a new bill that extended the life of the Reedy Creek Improvement District but gave the governor new powers over its future. The new law ousted the existing board, renamed it the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and allowed DeSantis to appoint all five members – one of whom was Peri.
This week, DeSantis told supporters that Disney’s opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act was a “only a mild annoyance” and that the motivation for effectively punishing the company was in response to it allegedly injecting “a lot of this sexuality into the programming for young kids.” He has suggested that the new board could influence Disney’s business decisions by adding park discounts for Florida residents and even altering the company’s entertainment offerings.
The Reedy Creek board has historically overseen a fire department, water systems, roadways, and building codes for Disney’s area. However, with DeSantis’ recent changes to the board, it remains to be seen how the district will be managed going forward
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