(The Hill) — An openly gay Florida high schooler who is among those suing over the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law used his graduation speech to speak about his experience—while using a winking code to avoid referring to his orientation directly.
“I must discuss a very public part of my identity. This characteristic has probably become the first thing you think of when you think of me as a human being,” Zander Moricz said Sunday. “As you know, I have curly hair.”
Moricz, the senior class president at Pine View School in Sarasota County, repeatedly referred to his distinctive locks after earlier saying he’d been told his speech would be censored if he spoke openly about the Parental Rights in Education law. “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, school administration had a signal to cut off my microphone, end my speech, and halt the ceremony,” Moricz previously wrote on Twitter.
During Pine View’s graduation ceremony, Moricz shared how the law could impact kids like him with “curly hair.” “There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they won’t have one,” Moricz said in his speech. “Instead, they’ll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida’s humid climate.”
Moricz said he’s been planning his graduation speech since his freshman year of high school but didn’t anticipate having to address his activism during it. “Do you think that I wanted it to be about this?” he asked the audience. “It needs to be about this for the thousands of curly-haired kids who are going to be forced to speak like this for their entire lives as students.”
Moricz urged his fellow classmates to “claim their power” and “give it to those who protect us.” “Those who we give our power to are the reason I have to stand here and talk about my hair during my graduation speech,” he added in a dig at Florida lawmakers.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in late March signed into law the controversial Don’t Say Gay, which limits discussion of sexuality and sexual orientation in classrooms. Several other states, including New Jersey and Louisiana, have introduced similar legislation. “Any student whose parent or guardian does not provide prior written consent shall be excused from that portion of the course where such instruction is provided and no penalties as to credit or graduation shall result therefrom,” reads a portion of the bill introduced by a New Jersey state senator.
Critics, including the Biden administration, say the bills will harm the mental health of young LGBTQ Americans.
“I used to hate my curls,” Moricz said in his speech. “I spent mornings and nights embarrassed of them, trying desperately to straighten this part of who I am, but the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to endure.”