TALLAHASSEE, FL As the school year ends, students across Florida are experiencing the inevitable censorship of Florida's anti-LGBTQ Don't Say Gay law recently signed by Governor DeSantis. The law's harmful impacts are not limited to LGBTQ students. Yearbooks, graduation ceremonies, school newspapers, and school libraries for all students are being held hostage under the law's new lawsuit provision, signaling what to expect more of in the future.
In Flagler County, Zander Moricz, a Harvard-bound senior and the school's first openly LGBTQ class president, has earned the right to give a commencement speech at his graduation but is being actively censored by his high school. The school principal dictated Moricz may not reference his activism opposing the Don't Say Gay. If Moricz does so, the school will immediately cut off his microphone on stage, end his speech, and halt the ceremony for all students, parents, and grandparents in attendance.
"This blatant censorship is unacceptable and entirely foreseeable," said Jon Harris Maurer, Equality Florida Public Policy Director. "It epitomizes how the law's vague and ambiguous language is erasing LGBTQ students, families, and history from kindergarten through 12th grade, without limits. The law is driving division when we should have a state where all students are protected and all families are respected."
At Lyman High School in Seminole County, school administrators proposed to censor students' school yearbook spread covering the Don't Say Gay walkout at the school, attempting to black out photos of students proudly holding pride flags. School leadership told student yearbook editors that the spread violated school policies, against "defamatory, libelous, obscene, or harmful to juveniles; speech that is reasonably likely to cause substantial disruption of or material interference with school activities." In another attempt to erase LGBTQ students and history, Lyman High School leadership has banned a student newspaper editor from publishing her article on the Don't Say Gay law.
At the Seminole County School Board meeting last night, numerous community members and students provided powerful student testimony in support of the students at Lyman High School. The School Board has opted to place a sticker noting that the Don't Say Gay Walkout was not a school sponsored event instead of blacking out the entire spread. The School Board Vice Chair called the original decision a "mistake."
"Stifling students from thinking critically and expressing themselves is the exact opposite of our goals as high school public educators," said Dr. Robert John Hovel Jr., AP Psychology Educator at Lyman High School. "We are always encouraging our students to engage and stay informed on current issues. These students educated themselves about the 'Don't Say Gay' bill and came together by the thousands to demand a stop to it, with these protests happening not just at Lyman, but across many Seminole County Public Schools. The courage and resilience demonstrated by our students demands applause, not discouragement. Being a visible, open, and out educator for my students is of the utmost importance for reasons such as this, to provide them support and encouragement to stand for what is right. These students did just that on the night of May 10, 2022 at the Seminole County School Board meeting and I could not be more proud of every single one of them."
These censorship attempts compound the effects of multiple school districts banning books that include same-sex couples or LGBTQ characters. Don't Say Gay bill proponents have labeled a popular baby book as "pornography" because it includes an illustration of two dads walking together and sought to ban it, along with a cartoon kids book about two male penguins raising a chick together, based on a true story. The message is clear: LGBTQ kids and kids with same-sex parents are not welcome in Florida schools or our state.
The Don't Say Gay law officially goes into effect on July 1, 2022.
Equality Florida is the largest civil rights organization dedicated to securing full equality for Florida's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. Through education, grassroots organizing, coalition building, and lobbying, we are changing Florida so that no one suffers harassment or discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.