Performative allyship is the biggest pitfall to social justice and we need to solve it.

Daniel J. Downer
4 min readMar 10, 2022

With the push for diversity, equity, and inclusion bustling now more than ever, also comes a bevy of threats to the cause — and performative allyship is just one of them.

Image of AHF Protest at Disney (Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Performative allyship is becoming the order of the day, with many professing their support for the LGBTQ+ community. It has become a recurring theme in recent times, with many companies in positions of power and privilege being, quick to lend rhetorical support to diversity, equity, and inclusion but their actions show truly where their support lies.

The Walt Disney Company has now “allegedly” come out against Florida’s Parental Rights In Education bill. The so-called ‘Don’t Say LGBTQ+’ bill was passed by Florida’s House and Senate and is headed to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk. The bill would limit discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.

Tweet Thread by (February 28, 2022)

In recent days, Disney employees and LGBTQ+ folk all over the world have shared their outrage on social media when the company did not denounce the proposed legislation but had made charitable donations since 2016 to Fl Sen. Baxley, one of the sponsors of the bill. On Wednesday, at Disney’s annual meeting with shareholders, Disney CEO Bob Chapek acknowledged their anger, saying that he knows “many are upset that we didn’t speak out against the bill.”

Chapek explained that Disney leaders were opposed to the bill “from the outset, but we chose not to take a public position on it because we thought we could be more effective working behind-the-scenes, engaging directly with lawmakers — on both sides of the aisle.”

Now, Chapek said the company is “reassessing our approach to advocacy — including political giving in Florida and beyond.”

Chapek said that he called Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, “to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary, and transgender kids and families.” Chapek says DeSantis has agreed to meet with him and some of Disney’s LGBTQ+ employees to hear their concerns.

He also announced that Disney has signed Human Rights Campaign’s statement opposing similar legislative efforts around the country and will pledge five million dollars to organizations “working to protect” LGBTQ+ rights.”

But I can not help but feel that this comes a little too late. And while Disney is in the controversial spotlight, there is a list of corporations that have yet to answer why they have been silent when it comes to speaking out against the ‘Don’t Say LGBTQ+’ bill.

Image of Major Corporate Contributors to the supporters of Florida’s “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” bill. (Popular Information, 2022)

I can tell you as a Black Queer community leader who has advocated for anti-racism, diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts and practices throughout public and private sectors here in Orlando I am not surprised by The Walt Disney Company’s silence now turned delayed response. It feels very “on brand” with the performative allyship culture that happens here in Central Florida.

Tweet Thread from Abigail Disney @abigaildisney (March 8, 2022)

Authentic allyship is a support system, in which someone from outside a marginalized group who has power and privilege advocates for those who are victims of discriminatory behaviors, whether that is at an individual level, process-drive, or systemically. With authentic allyship, there is an obvious, and genuine attempt, to transfer the benefits of privilege to those who lack it, to advocate on the marginalized groups’ behalf, and support them to achieve change.

Performative allyship, by contrast, is where those with privilege, profess solidarity with a cause. This assumed solidarity is usually vocalized but is disingenuous, and harmful to marginalized groups. Often, the performative ally professes allegiance to distance themselves from potential or further scrutiny. In many cases, they use a performance-driven activity, like releasing a statement, promising to donate, and/or sponsoring an event in a way that they believe will protect them from being highlighted negatively any further. It is often what we call, ‘talking the talk, without walking the walk.’

Performative allyship does not engage on a complex level. It consists of low-level, often ill-informed rhetorical statements that are usually obvious to marginalized communities and real allies, of intentional and meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion. It lacks genuine concern and does little to acknowledge the very behaviors that support structure and process-driven discrimination and racism.

If Disney and other companies are truly serious about diversity, equity, and inclusion. Then it needs to be part of their brand, what they stand for, and how they do things every single day. LGBTQ+ community members across the country have signed a petition to NYC Pride and Pride organizations across the country requesting that they hold companies and corporations sponsoring pride festivities accountable to a Pride Pledge in which they must:

  1. Explicitly condemning LGBTQ+ hate bills listed by the ACLU.
  2. Permanently suspending contributions to legislators who vote for LGBTQ+ hate bills.

The petition calls for the name and logo of any company would be prohibited from display in pride festivities until the company signs the Pride Pledge. This is not about performative appearance, it is about embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion so that it becomes part of every part of an entity’s identity.

Performative allyship only supports the reinforcement of attitudes and behaviors that maintain discriminatory and oppressive practices. If Disney and companies who tout themselves as allies of the LGBTQ+ community are fearful of engaging in intentional diversity, equity, and inclusion, then they too, are part of the problem. And certainly don’t deserve our support and our money.

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Daniel J. Downer

Champion for Black Queer rights, co-founder of the Black Boardroom Leadership Institute, and DEIB Consultant.