It's okay to have "curly hair."
Senior class president Zander Moricz was given a fair warning: If he used his graduation speech to criticize the “Don’t Say Gay” law, then his microphone would be shut off immediately.
Moricz had been receiving a lot of attention for his LGBTQ activism prior to the ceremony. Moricz, an openly gay student at Pine View School for the Gifted in Florida, also organized student walkouts in protest and is the youngest public plaintiff in the state suing over the law formally known as the Parental Rights in Education law, which prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3.
Though well beyond third grade, Moricz nevertheless was also banned from speaking up about the law, gender or sexuality. The 18-year-old tweeted, “I am the first openly-gay Class President in my school’s history–this censorship seems to show that they want me to be the last.”
However, during his speech, Moricz still delivered a powerful message about identity. Even if he did have to use a clever metaphor to do it.
Moricz told the audience, “I must discuss the very public part of my identity. This characteristic has probably become the first thing you think of when you think of me as a human being…”
“As you know, I…have curly hair,” he quipped, nonchalantly taking off his grad cap as the crowd began to clap.
If it’s not obvious now, it will soon become clear that “curly hair” is a euphemism for being gay. But it’s also about so much more.
“I used to hate my curls,” he continued. “I spent mornings and nights embarrassed of them, trying to desperately straighten this part of who I am. But the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to endure.”
A major criticism of Florida’s new law is that it potentially further discriminates against an already marginalized group. This can be especially damaging to mental health, and for young people in particular. It can be confusing to have a part of one’s reality so heavily politicized, not to mention at a time when that reality isn’t fully understood.
Moricz proceeded to praise a teacher who answered his questions when he didn’t have “other curly haired people to talk to,” highlighting the important role that an accepting community plays in shaping our identity and self-esteem.
“So, while having curly hair in the state of Florida can be difficult, due to the humidity, I decided to be proud of who I was, and started coming to school as my authentic self,” he shared.
Getting emotional, Moricz lamented, “There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they will not have one. Instead, they’ll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida’s humid climate.”
The use of code words is sadly not a new concept for the LGBTQ community. And while Moricz made good use of clever wordplay, he still found the experience to be “dehumanizing.” Luckily, his speech was met with an outpouring of love from fellow students, who gave him a standing ovation.
Despite the disheartening challenge, Moricz considered the speech a “great finale” to his high school years and is more determined than ever to continue his advocacy by studying government at Harvard. Sometimes when you have something important to say, silence isn’t an option.