As part of its Disney Plus Day promotion last week, Disney partnered with TikTok to release a suite of text-to-speech voices featuring beloved characters like Chewbacca and Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, but wouldn’t let them say words like “queer,” “gay” or “lesbian.”
With text-to-speech, creators can easily convert typed-out words to audio, making it a great and frequently utilised accessibility feature on the platform that’s particularly useful for visually impaired or blind users. But TikTok users were quick to point out that the Disney voices would skip over words that are commonly used to express sexuality, even though you could pretty easily game the system by including deliberate typos like “gayy,” “guay” or “qweer.”
TikTok hasn’t responded to our request for comment on why the words were initially blocked, but it’s worth noting that the platform’s own built-in text-to-speech feature takes no issue with words like “gay” or “lesbian,” and will read them out loud in a sentence or as a standalone.
The decision — which now appears to have been reversed — will come as no surprise to fans of Disney or anyone who has been sentient enough in the last 40 years or so to notice that the Mouse House has issues with the LGBTQ+ community. Although the company has made some wan gestures at queer representation in recent years — there was apparently a gay character in Cruella who I’m sure was significant to the plot and had a ton of lines — fans have been forced to read between the lines for years with characters that are explicitly queer-coded but never officially confirmed as queer.
Look, we get it — Disney is a family company, and it’s always going to be ultra-conservative when it comes to swear words, violence, or issues related to sex. But sexual identity is very much apart from sex itself, and it’s way past time for Disney to recognise that expressions of LGBTQ+ identity are not hedonistic or incompatible with family values in any way. Just ask the lesbian mums with the three-second cameo in Toy Story 4.