Transcript for Florida high school senior claims school tried to censor his graduation speech
- All right. We want to turn now to Zander Moricz. He's the first openly gay Class President at his high school in Florida. Now, he was preparing to give a speech at graduation. Zander says he was warned not to speak about activism or his sexual orientation, or they would actually cut his mic.
- Wow. So this all comes on the heels of Florida's passage of the Parental Rights and Education Bill, the so-called "Don't Say Gay" law. And here is part of Zander's graduation speech from yesterday. Take a look.
- I have curly hair.
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.
- Zander joins us now along with his attorney, Roberta Kaplan. Welcome, Zander and Roberta. Zander, congratulations. We heard what you did there, a lot of anticipation and some controversy surrounding your graduation speech. So tell me how you feel like it went? How was it received? And how did you feel about it?
- I was so happy with how it went. There was a lot of concern about the speech and what was going to happen. It's all anyone has really been talking about for the last week or two. And it was nervous because you don't know how that's going to go, and you don't know how a very volatile and polarized community is going to respond. But it was amazing. My school has always supported my activism, and they've been behind me for the last four years. So to receive a standing ovation like that and have that response was everything I needed to close out this high school career.
- Well, Zander, you talk about how supportive your high school has been and your classmates, so why weren't you supported this time around?
- The "Don't Say Gay" law, it's shocking and horrifying to see how quickly that law has been able to change school culture, not just at Pine View, but in schools across the state. I have so many activists and students reach out to me all the time talking about how pride flags are being taken down and things are changing so quickly. And that's what we're trying to talk about. That's what I'm trying to say.
Because when I was added to the lawsuit a few months ago, people asked me what I thought would happen. And I told them it wouldn't be K through 3, and it wouldn't just be classroom discussion. I said that it would be all grades and that they would try to eliminate all discussion of LGBTQ+ people, essentially trying to erase their existence. And now I'm the example that I talked about. And its surreal, and it's heartbreaking.
AMY ROBACH: It certainly is. And, Zander, we received a statement from your high school principal, Dr. Stephen Covert of Pine View School, saying this, "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."
You've said that your principal, whom you previously felt was supportive of you and who you are completely as a person-- what changed for you? And I want to know how you came up with the curly hair euphemism? And how it felt to have to describe who you are in that way, in veiled terms?
- It was really dehumanizing to have to embody myself in a metaphor just so that it could be spoken about. Because I'm not controversial. I'm not political. My identity and my human rights are not something that should upset or threaten a celebration. My principal has always been supportive of who I am. I think that he's a good person, but I think that the "Don't Say Gay" law makes it so that people cannot be good administrators. It turns people in school settings into vehicles of oppression. And it works really well. That's why this is scary. That's what happened here.
But in terms of coming up with this idea, I knew that when the district affirmed that they supported action if I was to speak about the law or that activism, I knew that cutting the mic was a real possibility. And I wasn't going to take away a celebration that hundreds of my friends have worked for.
But I also wasn't going to back down and not defend my human rights. But I also didn't want to waste a platform because it's looking like LGBTQ+ students aren't going to be receiving this opportunity to speak very often in Florida. So I had to balance these interests, and I had to come up with a way to still convey that message without ending or ruining the ceremony for people.
And I just kind of sat there. I was like, what? How do I make them see that this is just a part of who I am? How do I make it see that this is just human nature? And that's what I came up.
TJ HOLMES: Man, you're a high school student. That is a-- that is one of the most wildly impressive and articulate ways I've ever heard anybody explain how they went about their activism, so congratulations for that. And Roberta, let me ask you. He's a part-- two students, a part of this federal lawsuit now. What are the chances that this lawsuit is going to make any difference or make any kind of a change in the law there in Florida that's set to go into effect, I think, in a matter of weeks, or a month, or so?
- So a couple of things-- first of all, we have something in our country known as the First Amendment. [CHUCKLES] And the First Amendment gives everyone the right to speak. And we have very, very strong arguments that under the First Amendment it was wrong and unconstitutional for the school to say to Zander, you have to use coded language about having curly hair rather than saying you're gay.
In fact, it hearkens back to the 1950s when gay people in this country had to hide who they were and use coded language with each other to try to express things. We're not going back to the 1950s. We have constitutional rights to equal dignity in this country. And we're going to enforce those rights.
The other problem-- and Zander alluded to this-- is think about what this law, which is already in effect-- you're effectively-- even though the date hasn't happened, you saw what it did at Amber's grad-- I mean, at Zander's graduation.
And think about kids who aren't as confident, who aren't as articulate as Zander, who may be worried about their sexual identity. What's going to happen to a kid like that?
And what's going to happen to a first grader who wants to draw a picture in his classroom of his two moms or his two dads? How's he going to be able to talk about his family to his class? These are fundamental issues that are fundamentally protected in our Constitution. And this law, frankly, is un-American.
- Zander and Roberta, thank you so much for being with us today.
- Thank you, truly.
- And Zander, don't ever cut that hair. We love that curly hair, OK?
TJ HOLMES: We love it. We love it.
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.