It's been a few weeks since I last wrote about Noor Abdallah and Imane Boudial, the two Muslim women working at the Disneyland resort in Anaheim who were pressuring their employer for the right to wear hijab at work.
In his column yesterday, the Los Angeles Times' Michael Hiltzik wrote about the issue again with some interesting perspective on Disney: Given the company's massive influence on entertainment and mainstream culture in general, could its actions help pave the way toward the mainstreaming of Muslim culture and standards of dress?
As an example of Disney's cultural evolution, Hiltzik cited in his column Disneyland's one-time ban on same-sex dancing, which in 1984 led to the eviction of two gay men from the park. The company lifted the ban the next year following a court challenge.
Since, he wrote, then the company's stance has changed considerably: Though not sponsored by the company, annual "Gay Day" weekends take place at the Anaheim and Orlando parks; the company has provided domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian employees; in 1997, Ellen DeGeneres publicly came out as a lesbian on her show on the ABC, which is owned by Disney.
Has Disney made these accommodations because they're the morally right choices, or because there are profits to be made in appealing to new markets? At a certain level, the answer is: As long as the correct outcome is achieved, who cares?
Yet Disney is no mere conventional business. Leaving aside the perennial grousing that the Disney brand homogenizes culture, the company's pervasive influence in entertainment invests it with the responsibility to promote an inclusionary climate in its parks and products.
Why? Because the actions of influential companies like Disney are crucial in moving excluded groups into the mainstream of society. Inclusionary actions help remove the stigma of "otherness," which encourages the casual marginalization of those groups. At whatever stage of the mainstreaming of gays into American society you think Disney started to participate in the trend, its policy changes certainly helped validate the process in the public mind.
Disney has allowed one of the Muslim employees, intern Abdallah, to wear a modified uniform with a blue head scarf under a beret-style hat. Initially hired to an internship as a vacation planner, she was told upon arriving to work that she must instead take a stockroom job, with limited public interaction. Disney made the concession after she sought legal counsel.
The other employee, Moroccan immigrant Imane Boudial, filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, still pending.
Multi-American featured a Q&A with Noor Abdallah last month.