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Zander Moricz

After using his high school graduation speech to take aim at Florida's new "Don't Say Gay" law, Zander Moricz was interviewed on "Good Morning America" on May 23, 2022. (Photo: ABC/screenshot)

Florida Student's Graduation Speech About Curly Hair Highlights Cruelty of 'Don't Say Gay' Law

Having to use a euphemism to discuss his identity "was a really dehumanizing decision," said Zander Moricz. "I just had to be clever about it—but I shouldn't have had to be."

Jessica Corbett

Pine View School for the Gifted class president Zander Moricz used his graduation speech on Sunday to call out Florida's recently enacted "Don't Say Gay" law—but he did not mention the measure or the lawsuit challenging it, for which he is one of the plaintiffs.

What else did he not explicitly mention? That he is openly gay.

Moricz's meeting with his principal before the ceremony and a statement to local media from Sarasota County Schools made clear that if the graduating senior used the event as "a platform for personal political statements, especially those likely to disrupt the ceremony," then "it may be necessary to take appropriate action."

Moricz spoke broadly about challenging those in power and rather than clearly referencing his sexual identity, he discussed his curly hair, telling the audience that "I used to hate my curls. 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."

"So, while having curly hair in Florida is difficult—due to the humidity—I decided to be proud of who I was and started coming to school as my authentic self," he continued, explaining that a teacher, Ms. Ballard, answered his questions "because I didn't have other curly-haired people to talk to," and that he found support from other students and adults.

"It's because of the love I've drawn from this community that I came out to my family. Now I'm happy… And that is what is at stake. There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they won't have one," warned the Harvard-bound student, urging those in the audience to use their power as voters.

Ahead of the speech, Moricz told Teen Vogue about meeting with his principal and how his final week of high school has been, sharing that "I wanted it to be about my friends and saying goodbye to everybody but instead it's really miserable. I have so many people that are angry so worried it will derail their graduation and I worry about that too and am trying to prevent that."

Moricz and his attorney, Robbie Kaplan, appeared on "Good Morning America" Monday. While calling the experience of delivering his address "an amazing moment" and recognizing those who have supported him and his work for the past four years, Moricz also acknowledged the "hate" and "fear" surrounding the speech and that "the threat to cut the mic was very real."

As for using his curly hair as a placeholder, Moricz said that "it was a really dehumanizing decision because I had to take something I had written and was really proud of that just discussed my identity and my human rights and I had to find a way to be clever to discuss who I was."

"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," added the student and LGBTQ+ activist.

After Moricz talked about the speech—which sparked a standing ovation—Kaplan explained how the so-called Parental Rights in Education Act signed by Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in March, which bans discussions of gender identity and sexual orientation in schools, "was deliberately written to be as vague and as broad as possible."

Asked how the law might have impacted his high school experience if it was implemented years ago, Moricz said that "I wouldn't have come out, and that's the really scary thing… Public schooling is the only place that all children are guaranteed access to and the majority of the LGBTQ+ community in Florida will go through the public school system. "

"So what this law does is it effectively takes away the only guaranteed safe space from the majority of the entire LGBTQ population here—and 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, and what you'e gonna see is kids are gonna choose not to come out at all, and that's the point of the law," he said. "It's supposed to push LGBTQ+ children back into the closet."

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