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Roughly 60 students from the Compass School, in Westminster Vt., walk around Bellows Falls, Vt., to show support for the LGBTQAI+ community on Friday, April 1, 2022, after the passage of Florida’s Parental Right in Education bill otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

WESTMINSTER — At least 50 Compass School students walked out of school Friday morning and headed to downtown Bellows Falls to protest threats to gay rights, part of a nationwide day of protest.

The students organized the protest themselves, and it did not stem from curriculum at the private independent school, which is located a short distance from downtown Bellows Falls.

The students walked down Westminster Street, Rockingham Street, Atkinson Street, and then headed back to their school, according to Eric Rhomberg, director of the school.

PURCHASE PHOTOS

The issue, according to student Riley Bredbeck of Westminster, are the rights of gay students and recent legislation in Florida and Texas that erodes those rights, she said.

The Florida legislation is known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, she said. The law forbids classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergarten through third grade. For older students, discussion about gay and transgender issues has to be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”

Bredbeck said Friday, April 1, was part of a nationwide protest of the erosion of LGBTQ rights.

“People have been incredibly supportive,” she said.

The students organized the walkout and protest themselves, Rhomberg said, and he said the students would not face discipline for walking out of class for about 90 minutes Friday morning.

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He said the school supported the students for their activism. He said the students informed the school about their plans ahead of time.

“We affirm free speech,” he said. “We support it and we’re very proud of the students. We honor their activism.”

He said he sent a couple of teachers to go with the students, to make sure there weren’t any problems.

The protest was organized by students from the school’s Social Justice Alliance, said teacher Alexandrin Zuser, staff advisor for the Alliance.

“The Social Justice Alliance works on issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and other discrimination, both within the school and outside our school walls,” the students wrote in an email.

“The group started as a GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) but has expanded to include other social justice concerns. Projects range from writing letters and cards of support to students in states where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has been passed to creating a resources bulletin-board for the school to working with faculty and administration to ensure that the school is a safe and welcoming place for all,” they wrote.

As Bredbeck was talking to a reporter, horns honked in support of the students. She said there have been some negative slurs too.

“Generally there’s been a lot of support. It’s been pretty great. Awesome,” she said.

“Awesome,” added another student.

“Awesome,” agreed another protester.

Photographer Kristopher Radder contributed to this report.