Zander Moricz was the first openly gay student body president at Pine View School in Osprey, Florida, and when he stepped to the microphone at his school’s graduation on Sunday, he was determined to speak truthfully about his experiences — one way or another.
Earlier in May, Mr Moricz — the youngest public plantiff in the lawsuit over Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gill” law — tweeted that his school’s principal had called him into his office to tell Mr Moricz that his microphone would be cut off at graduation if he referenced his activism in his speech.
“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,” Mr Moricz tweeted. “This threat is not the first that I have received from administration about my queer rights.”
Mr Moricz wrote that he was similarly threatened when he helped organize a student walkout to protest the passage of the law, which bans teachers from teaching about gender and sexual orientation to young elementary school students and bans any such instruction when it is “not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
But Pine View students walked out anyway, and Mr Moricz found a way to speak about his sexual orientation during his commencement speech — never saying “gay,” but instead referring to his “curly hair” as a euphemism.
“There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they won’t have one,” Mr Moricz said during his address. “Instead, they’ll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida’s humid climate.”
In an interview on ABC’s Good Morning America, Mr Moricz said that had the Don’t Say Gay law been in place when he started at high school, he wouldn’t have come out.
“It effectively takes away the only guaranteed safe space from the majority of the entire LGBTQ population here,” Mr Moricz said.
Pine View School reportedly approved Mr Moricz’s euphamistic speech in advance — while issuing a statement that “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.”
The experience left Mr Moricz frustrated.
“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,” Mr Moricz told Good Morning America. “But I shouldn’t have had to be because I don’t exist in a euphemism and I deserve to be celebrated as is.”
Mr Moricz, who will be attending Harvard University in the fall, said that Florida law is designed to make schools unsafe for LGBTQ+ people.
“School was an essential place for me,” Mr Moricz said. “It helped me discover who I was, it helped me be confident to speak like I’m speaking and be who I am, and that should be able to be taken for granted.”