Watch: Student Says Principal Threatened to 'Cut off His Mic' at Graduation if he Dares to 'Say Gay'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday May 11, 2022
Originally published on May 11, 2022

Zander Moricz
Zander Moricz   (Source:Screenshot/MSNBC/YouTube)

Florida high school student Zander Moricz has been actively pushing back against that state's "Don't Say Gay" law, organizing a protest at his school and joining a lawsuit against the measure — the youngest plaintiff to do so.

With his high school graduation approaching, Moricz now says that the principal of his high school has warned him against mentioning the issue at graduation, the New York Daily News reported (story is behind a pay wall).

In a May 9 tweet, Moricz detailed the threat. "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."

It's not the first time school personnel have responded with threats against the young activist, the report noted, citing a Twitter post in which Moricz said, "When administration discovered that I was organizing a Say Gay walkout, they had all our posters ripped from the walls and told me to shut down the protest. They said they would send school security if I did not listen."

Moricz pressed ahead anyway, the report said, and "The walkout ended up becoming Sarasota County's largest demonstration against the legislation."

In a followup tweet, Moricz wrote, "My principal is censoring me. My human rights are too controversial for his school."

MSNBC took up the story, referring to him as "the Harvard-bound senior" and noting that Moricz is "the first openly gay class president" at his high school. The news program cited his organization of the protest at his school and his testimony against "Don't Say Gay," which he delivered to the Florida state senate.

In response to the principal's alleged threat, Moricz has launched "a 'Say Gay' initiative," the news program relayed, "that aims to send ten thousand stickers to seniors across the state to wear as they walk across the graduation stage."

The report noted that Sarasota County Schools had sent in a statement, claiming that "All material... is reviewed and approved by school personnel" and adding that the review process which students' speeches were subjected to is "consistent with existing law, including the First Amendment to our Constitution."

But in an interview with MSNBC, Moricz explained that "the parameters" regarding his graduation speech "are very vague, as the language of the ["Don't Say Gay" law] is, and as is everything involving this LGBTQ censorship is."

The Florida law, which has prompted copycat legislation elsewhere, criminalizes classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ issues through third grade — but it also makes it a crime to discuss such issues when students are not "developmentally" ready for it, a broad and fuzzy stipulation that critics say will chill the free speech of LGBTQ+ youth in Florida schools whatever their grade might be. The law also encourages lawsuits against teachers and schools by parents for perceived violations of the nebulous law.

Asked whether mention of such issues during a graduation speech could properly be considered classroom instruction of the forbidden topics, lawyer John Quinn responded, "The question you've asked highlights and underscores the vagueness of this law, which is one of its quintessential problems." Noting that students could be muzzled if they speak about their own sexual and gender identities or family members, Quinn pointed out that the law's "vagueness... invites discrimination and censorship." Quinn noted that the law hasn't even come into effect yet, and won't until July 1, suggesting that the chilling effect on classroom discussion and the marginalization of LGBTQ+ youth have already begun.

Meanwhile, Moricz's tweets indicate that he is willing and quite capable of carrying on the fight.

Watch the MSNBC news clip below.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.