Students challenge ‘Don’t Say Gay’ laws amid wave of anti-LGBTQ legislation

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(NEW YORK) — Zander Moricz’s graduation speech last month about his curly hair — a metaphor for being a gay young adult — has became a symbol for the impact of anti-LGBTQ sentiment and so-called “Don’t Say Gay” laws across the country.

“I​​t would have felt inappropriate as the first openly gay class president in a public school, not to address a piece of legislation that’s going to harm gay children in public schools in Florida,” Moricz told ABC News.

Moricz has been outspoken against the Florida law that bans LGBTQ curriculum from some classrooms. LGBTQ advocates have said the law would chill speech and classroom discussion about these topics and force some students to hide their identity due to shame.

He is one of many students in the state, both in and out of K-12 schools, who fear the impact of the bill. Student activists have continued to organize against the Parental Rights in Education law months after it was signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March.

Students in several Florida schools across the state held protests against the decision — in Osprey, Palm Coast, St. Johns County, Seminole County and more. Months later, the fight hasn’t stopped.

Moricz is just one of many activists across the state continuing their work to address anti-LGBTQ sentiment in their communities.

Another student, Nathalie Saladrigas, said she was ashamed of exploring her identity growing up. Seeing the new laws attacking the LGBTQ community, she fears for the students still in high school who will grow up in a similar environment.

The legislation feels personal, and that’s why she says she’s carrying the conversation into higher academia. She now goes to college in Miami-Dade County, and started the first LGBTQ club on her campus.

She said the club aims to educate students about issues affecting LGBTQ people in the community, including legislation, housing, reproductive rights and more.

Another LGBTQ student-led advocacy organization called Prism, which consists of students of all ages, is also continuing its efforts against the governor’s actions by reaching students where they are, even when school is out of session: social media. An upcoming social media educational campaign against anti-LGBTQ legislation will continue the group’s online advocacy.

Moricz’s graduation speech, he said, was also an act of resistance.

“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,” Moricz said in his May graduation speech, about two months after the passing of the bill.

He continued, “I’ve been preparing for this speech since I was elected my freshman year. Do you think that I wanted it to be about this? 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 said he faced opposition during his final months at Pine View School in Osprey, Florida, over student walkouts against the “Don’t Say Gay” law or in the potential mentioning of political issues during his graduation speech.

The school told ABC News that the principal did meet with Moricz “to remind him of the ceremony expectations, but the content of the speech had not been submitted or reviewed at the time of that meeting.”

It said Moricz was never told he could not speak about his own identity in his speech.

“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,” said Stephen Covert, the principal of Pine View School.

But now, Moricz is leaving the Florida school system amid a broader effort against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — he’s suing the state alongside other families and LGBTQ advocacy org Equality Florida.

The complaint alleges that the law violates the constitutionally protected rights of free speech, equal protection and due process of students and families.

DeSantis’ office denounced the lawsuit.

“This lawsuit is a political Hail-Mary to undermine parental rights in Florida,” a spokesperson told ABC News. “This calculated, politically motivated, virtue-signaling lawsuit is meritless, and we will defend the legality of parents to protect their young children from sexual content in Florida public schools.”

Some students say that though it’s easy to feel hopeless, they instead feel powerful due to the work being put into advocating for their community.

“These nonprofit organizations are doing the work in the community, grassroots organizing…they’re always working and promoting the cause and helping students and that’s really inspiring,” said Saladrigas.

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