Florida Student Not Allowed To Say ‘Gay’ During Grad Speech?

A Florida graduate says his school is not allowing him to say "gay" during his Valedictorian speech, stirring debate.

By Erika Hanson | Published

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Don’t say gay” may just be the three most controversial words uttered this year, and that’s all thanks to a landmark Florida education law. To supporters of HB 1557, the new law means that young children will be protected from any form of sexual identity conversations with the state’s youngest pupils. But to opposers, it’s a slippery slope leading down a hateful path targeting LGBTQ students and educators. For the first time in the new law’s short-lived span, a Florida graduate is caught up in the logistics of this controversial law, as he claims that his school has barred him from saying “gay” during his commencement address to the class of 2022. 

Zander Moricz graduated from Pine View School in Osprey, Florida as the smartest student in this year’s graduating class. As the Valedictorian, he has been set to give his commencement speech to his fellow classmates for quite some time. But all of that has been marred in recent weeks, as the Florida graduate, who is openly gay, says that his school warned him not to use the word “gay” during his address to the class. 

According to Vice – who spoke directly with Moricz – the Florida graduate was being censored during his commencement speech. In a series of tweets that the Florida graduate shared on May 9th, he claimed that his principal, Stephen Covert, alerted him that the school’s administration would cut power to his microphone and “halt the ceremony” if he brought up any discussion of activism. Furthermore, he said that they explicitly told him not to discuss anything that dealt with LGBTQ identity. 

The  Florida graduate did go through with his speech during the school’s commencement ceremony this past Sunday, May 22nd. However, according to USA Today, he replaced the word “gay” with curly hair, representative of the young boy’s spiral locks. If this Florida law had been implemented a few years ago, before Moricz had come out, he says that he probably would still be in the closet.

School officials still have not openly answered questions in regards to Moricz’s claims that they would censor his speech. When Vice reached out for comment, a school representative for Pine View responded on behalf of the principal. Instead of answering the media’s direct question, they released a statement asserting that the school endorses diversity. If the Florida graduate’s claims are true, and he was barred from discussing his sexual identity in his speech, it further supports the controversial law’s defectors’ claims that the law’s text is a gateway to LGBTQ+ civil rights slander. 

HB 1557 was officially called the Parental Rights In Education Bill. To the law’s conservative backers, it was touted as merely a way to prevent indoctrination from school staff. There has been a slew of media claims in the past school year that LGBTQ+ activist teachers are pushing their gender identity’s on students as young as Kindergarten. This bill was meant to stop that. But to opposers of the bill, like this Florida graduate, the ambiguous text had detrimental consequences to the LGBTQ+ community.

Opposers point to a line in HB 1557’s text that mandates that discussions regarding LGBTQ identity must be “age-appropriate” for all K-12 students. Since the verbiage fails to define what might constitute something that is not “age-appropriate” many fear that it opens the gateway for schools to potentially ban anything they please. For this reason and others, the Florida graduate is now the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit against the law. 

The controversial Florida legislation is already stirring controversy not only throughout The Sunshine State but all across the county. Ironically, the law doesn’t even go into effect until July 1st. The Florida graduate may be one of the first cases of the contentious education law being questioned, but it will likely not be the last time.