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Florida high schooler says he was told not to mention the 'Don't Say Gay' law in graduation speech

Although he couldn't speak about his sexuality in the speech, the teen made sure to get his message across by referring to his 'curly hair' as a euphemism for being gay.

Florida high schooler says he was told not to mention the 'Don't Say Gay' law in graduation speech
Cover Image Source: Twitter/zander moricz

A Florida high school student is speaking out after he was allegedly subjected to censorship by school officials over talking about the state's "Parental Rights in Education" law—also called the "Don’t Say Gay" law by critics—in his graduation speech. Zander Moricz, a senior and the president of his graduating class at Pine View School in Osprey, wrote in a viral Twitter thread a couple of weeks ago that he was being "silenced" by the school administration. "I am the youngest public plaintiff in the 'Don't Say Gay' lawsuit. I am my Florida high school's first openly-gay Class President. I am being silenced, and I need your help," he wrote.


"A few days ago, my principal called me into his office and informed me that if my graduation speech referenced my activism or role as a plaintiff in the lawsuit, the school administration had a signal to cut off my microphone, end my speech, and halt the ceremony," Moricz continued. "I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school's history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last. This threat is not the first that I have received from the administration about my queer rights. When the administration discovered that I was organizing a Say Gay walkout, they had all our posters ripped from the walls and told me to shut down the protest. They said they would send school security if I did not listen."


Speaking to Good Morning America, the 18-year-old shared that although he was worried ahead of the speech on Sunday, he felt supported by his fellow classmates and peers, some of whom wore "Say Gay" stickers and stood up and cheered while he spoke. "There was a lot of hate and a lot of fear surrounding the speech about what people were going to do if someone was going to react poorly because it was really present in the community—that hatred and that fear—and so I was worried and I knew that there was a potential to cut the mic," Moricz said.


"To have a standing ovation like that and a response like that from all of these people was amazing," he continued. "It was really a great finale for four years of high school." Although he couldn't speak about his sexuality in the speech, the teen made sure to get his message across by referring to his "curly hair" as a euphemism for being gay. "This characteristic has probably become the first thing you think of when you think of me as a human being. As you know, I have curly hair," Moricz said in his speech. "There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they will not have one. Instead, they'll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida's humid climate."


Meanwhile, Pine View School—which approved the euphemism-laden remarks in what seems to have been an attempt to walk a fine line between following the law and allowing Moricz to deliver his speech as class president—said in a statement released before graduation: "Students are reminded that a graduation should not be a platform for personal political statements... Should a student vary from this expectation during the graduation, it may be necessary to take appropriate action." But for Moricz, having to modify his graduation speech was more than just disappointing.


"It was a really dehumanizing decision because I had to take something I had written and... I had to find a way to be clever to discuss who I was," he said. "Because the district affirmed that they supported action if I brought up the lawsuit or the advocacy around it, I knew that the threat to cut the mic was very real, so I wasn't going to let that happen and I just had to be clever about it. But I shouldn't have had to be because I don't exist in a euphemism and I deserve to be celebrated as is."


Roberta Kaplan, Moricz's attorney, claims the "Parental Rights in Education" law was purposely written to be overly broad and open-ended. "Zander was censored and he shouldn't have had to censor himself and not be able to talk about who he really is at his commencement speech," Kaplan said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg. The law itself was deliberately written to be as vague and as broad as possible. So what you get is what you saw with Zander and obviously applies to commencement. We saw that just yesterday, and it applies in many, many other circumstances."


Moricz, who credits one of his teachers for helping him come out as a young teenager, fears the law will prevent other young people from feeling safe to be their authentic selves. "What this law does is, it effectively takes away the only guaranteed safe space from the majority of the entire LGBTQ population here," he said. "That's horrifying because what you then have is so many children being forced to make the choice between coming out unsafely or not coming out at all." The teen will be studying government at Harvard University in the fall and plans to continue advocating for the LGBTQ+ community. "I'm going to be concentrating in government so I can try and fix the same problems I'm trying to fix now," he said.

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