Senior Class President Zander Moricz was tapped with giving a commencement speech at Pine View School in Osprey, Fla., but was given a restriction not normally attached to such an event.
An openly gay activist who is the youngest plaintiff in a lawsuit against a new state law that restricts what teachers can say in classes about gender and sexual orientation, the teenager said publicly that he had been warned by his principal not to mention his activism or say the word “gay.” If he did, Moricz said on social media, his microphone would be cut off.
So on Sunday, Moricz gave the speech without saying the word – but still managed to speak directly about who he is and why he advocates for the LGBTQ community. He used his curly hair as a metaphor.
“I used to hate my curls,” he said, after removing his graduation cap and running his hands through his hair.
“I spent morning and night embarrassed of them trying to straighten this part of who I am, but the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to endure,” he said. “So while having curly hair in Florida is difficulty due to the humidity, I decided to be proud of who I was and started coming to school as my authentic self.”
Pine View Principal Steve Covert did not respond to The Washington Post’s efforts to contact him. Kelsey Whealy, a spokeswoman for Sarasota County Schools, said in a May 10 email that Pine View’s principal “did meet with Zander Moricz to remind him of the ceremony expectations” but did not say he had been told not to say “gay.”
The Parental Rights in Education bill – which critics have labeled the “don’t say gay” bill – was signed March 28 by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, R. The law prevents teachers in kindergarten through third grade from discussing gender and sexual orientation in class and restricts what teachers can say in upper grades to what is developmentally appropriate, without saying what that is. The law goes into effect July 1.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit allege that the law harms LGBTQ students and families and violates their First Amendment right to freedom of speech, as well as their constitutional right to equal protection under the law.