A Florida high schooler who is suing the state over its “Parental Rights in Education” law — dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law — says school officials are trying to censor his graduation speech to ensure he doesn’t talk about LGBTQ topics or his past activism.
Zander Moricz, a graduating senior form Pine View School in Osprey, Florida, who will be attending Harvard next year, has served as class president for all four years of high school. That position entitles him to give a speech at his graduation ceremony on May 22.
But Moricz claims, in a statement posted to Twitter earlier this week, that Pine View Principal Stephen Covert has warned against any mentions of activism or politically-charged topics in his graduation speech.
“A few days ago, my principal called me into his office and informed me that if my graduation speech referenced my activism or my role as a plaintiff in the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ lawsuit, school administration had a signal to cut off my microphone, end my speech, and halt the ceremony,” said Moricz, who is the youngest public plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to block that law. “This threat was not his first.”
Moricz lamented how, as an activist and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, he would be unable to speak “about who I am.” He also recalled how Covert had previously tried to discourage him from organizing a student walkout against the “Don’t Say Gay” law when it was being debated in the legislature, claiming Covert “threatened to shut me down — this time with the promise of school security officers.” The protest ultimately went forward, without incident.
Officials with Sarasota County School have said that while the principal did talk to Moricz about speech expectations, nobody has seen the proposed speech, reports the Venice Gondolier.
“Out of respect for all those attending the graduation, students are reminded that a graduation should not be a platform for personal political statements, especially those likely to disrupt the ceremony,” the school system said in a statement. “Should a student vary from this expectation during the graduation, it may be necessary to take appropriate action.”
Covert did not address Moritz’s allegations directly, but did issue a generic statement in response.
“We honor and celebrate the incredible diversity in thought, belief, and background in our school, and champion the uniqueness of every single student on their personal and educational journey,” he said.
But even if his speech is censored, the Social Equity and Education Initiative, a Florida-based campaign of human rights and equality advocates, is creating more than 10,000 “Say Gay” stickers for high school seniors across Florida to wear on their graduation gowns, which Moricz and other students will be donning as they accept their diplomas.
“As we accept our diplomas, we’ll transform the target placed on the queer community into a spotlight,” Moricz said in his statement.
Moricz’s tweet has since gone viral, being shared by various celebrities, including George Takei, Dan Levy, and Keith Olbermann, expressing outrage over the potential censorship. Moricz also started a petition on Change.org explaining the situation and demanding that he be given the chance to speak freely.
Jane Goodwin, the chair of the Sarasota County School Board, said Moricz’s outspokenness comes as no surprise to her.
“As a believer in free speech, I would expect just that from Zander,” she told the Gondolier in an email. “He should be allowed to speak his truth. Zander, in his high school career, has shown courage and grace as he works for the rights of all students. His achievements are numerous, and his wisdom is ageless. It has been my honor to know him. I wish him great successes and happiness in life at Harvard!”
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!