Norwich University celebrates its first Gay Pride Week - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Norwich University celebrates its first Gay Pride Week

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NORTHFIELD, Vt. -

For the first time in its nearly 200-year history, students at Norwich University are sharing an important and once hidden piece of who they are.

"I identify as a gay man," student Joshua Fontanez said.

"I identify as a heterosexual male," student Robert Morris said.

"I identify as a bisexual female," student Rikki Feightner said.

Freshman Rikki Feightner always dreamed of a military career. She got a scholarship in high school for her advocacy work on gay rights and equality-- it's helping pay her way through the military school.

"I had honestly been planning on, you know, taking the scholarship being proud of it and then going into hiding," Feightner said.

That changed on the Northfield campus when "don't ask, don't tell" was done away with last fall. Quickly, a Student Pride group emerged and this week, the university is hosting a Pride Week to promote acceptance of students who are gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, bisexual and questioning.

"We are not afraid to break barriers. We are not afraid to step outside of what most people consider in the box in the name of what we've said is a greater social good," Feightner said.

Students say for the most part the events are positive, as the community known for its traditions is being asked to embrace something new and different.

"I wouldn't say it's breaking down tradition. I'd say it's more starting new tradition and really pushing forward with this change," Morris said. "I mean it's happening. It's the next civil rights movement and you can't stay neutral on a moving train."

It may be a moving train but not everyone is on board. Our news van was tagged with a derogatory term when we visited.

"There are certainly some angry students and what we're trying to do is we're trying to reach out and understand why these people are angry," Feightner said. "And some people I understand that it's just the way they were raised or their personal beliefs."

Pride Week leaders say pushback can be expected when it comes to social change, but they say they continue to find allies on campus and are ready to support others if and when they're ready to come out.

"We're saying when you're ready to be who you are there is a community here who will embrace you and love you and support you," Fontanez said.

It's that support Feightner says has put her at ease as she comes to know herself and embrace the campus and community she loves.

"It's had its ups and downs, but I can say honestly it's been one of the most exciting weeks of my life," Feightner said.

In a statement to WCAX News about the slur found on our car, Norwich President Richard Schneider said: "I am extremely disappointed. This act was an isolated incident that does not reflect the spirit of this week's events or what Norwich stands for. This is unacceptable under any circumstances but especially during a time when our community is stepping up in such a supportive way."

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