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Alumni-created Rally for Diversity draws crowd to BOE lawn

Signs reading "Love Not War," "Equality for All, Justice for All, Love for All, "The more variety, the better society," and more speckled the lawn of the Carroll County Board of Education building Friday afternoon. Between 50 and 100 turned out, many holding their signs while songs from "This Land is Your Land" to "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga played over a small set of speakers.

Signs reading "Love Not War," "Equality for All, Justice for All, Love for All, "The more variety, the better society" and more speckled the lawn of the Carroll County Board of Education building Friday afternoon.

Between 50 and 100 turned out, many holding their signs while songs from "This Land is Your Land" to "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga played over a small set of speakers.

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"I hope it gets people talking," said Malarie Burgess, a 2004 graduate of Westminster High School and one of the event organizers.

Friday's event, called a Rally for Diversity, was the continuation of a grassroots movement that started growing last month.

A group of teachers at Westminster High were told by administration to take down posters featuring the "We the People" images on Feb. 16. School system leaders deemed the posters as taking a political stance, something that officials said is against school policy for teachers.

Since the posters were removed and the story was first published by the Carroll County Times before gaining traction with national outlets such as the Huffington Post and The Washington Post, students took to online crowdsourcing to raise more than $5,000 for shirts worn Wednesday bearing the banned image.

And Friday, students, alumni and community members came out for the Rally for Diversity in support of the students' demonstration.

Burgess said she's proud of what the students have done and the movement that's been created.

"Small towns are moving forward, too," added Burgess, of Towson.

Those who attended Friday's rally said they came for a number of reasons. Some were students continuing to demonstrate against the removal of the posters. Others were there supporting LGBTQ rights — a number of members from Carroll's chapter of PFLAG, the national nonprofit organization made up of parents, families, friends and allies uniting with people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer, were there.

Some speakers told stories of growing up as a person of color in the county, while others shared their struggles being gay in a predominantly conservative county. Stories of contemplated suicide because of these differences were shared.

For Dina Ciccone, attending Friday's rally was a showing of support for her son. Ciccone's son is transgender and is currently a student in the Carroll County Public School system.

She's concerned over the issue of bathroom use, and she said it seems like the school system hasn't made a definitive decision on the issue.

"We're not all the same," Ciccone said, but that just means people should celebrate differences.

Westminster Councilman Robert Wack joined Friday's rally. Wack's two children were a part of the creation of the T-shirt demonstration Wednesday.

"I'm supporting my children" and the idea that the Declaration of Independence and First Amendment still matter, Wack said. He hopes the posters will be put back up in classrooms, he added.

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It's important for people to know "diversity will make us stronger," said Lane Cogdill, a transgender resident of New Windsor and activist in the county. And with the recent rollback of President Barack Obama's guidelines on bathroom and locker room use for transgender students, attending the rally was even more important, Cogdill said.

"Diversity includes everyone. 'We the People' includes everyone," Cogdill added.

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