Westporter Asks: Where Is The LGBTQ Community?

When Brian McGunagle and his family moved from Rye, New York 4 years ago, they looked at places like Greenwich, Darien and Norwalk.

But it was Westport that most attracted them. McGunagle and his husband Stephen Gustafson liked the town’s progressive, artistic history. The fact that the Brook Cafe opened as a gay bar around 1931, and flourished here for 7 decades, was particularly intriguing.

McGunagle and Gustafson have been happy here. Their 21-month-old son Henry is flourishing in daycare.

Still, when they joined a “new parents” group through Willows Pediatrics, they wondered if they’d be the the only same-sex couple.

They met 2 families in which the husbands were transgender. They learned about a Facebook group for LGBTQ parents that facilitated playdates. Through that, they met several same-sex partners.

Steve Gustafson, Henry and Brian McGunagle go pumpkin picking.

But McGunagle — who works in the energy sector, while studying to become an Episcopal priest — wants more than a quiet, open suburb.

“As one of Westport’s growing same-sex couple families,” he says, “I want to ensure that our community is visible.” He also hopes to provide models to people who are “questioning or awakening to their own sexuality.”

For 30 years, the Triangle Community Center in Norwalk has served the Fairfield County LGBTQ community. There’s a center in New Haven too, and of course plenty of resources in New York City.

Closer to home, Westport’s Unitarian Church has long supported LGBTQ causes, including meetings and programming.

McGunagle’s idea is to complement what exists, with a uniquely Westport spin.

Among his ideas:

  • Celebrating Pride Month in June with a parade and festivities on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, and at the Levitt Pavilion
  • Honoring our LGBTQ history and famous community members through the Westport Museum for History & Culture
  • Designing a rainbow crosswalk downtown
  • Creating programs and resources for people coming out at any age, singles, same-sex families, families with LGBTQ members, those who are transgender or gender fluid, seniors.=
  • Rallying allies
  • Partnering with Staples High School’s Gender Sexuality Alliance
  • Providing mentor opportunities.

“Do those ideas resonate? Is anyone interested?” McGunagle asks.

He hopes to hear feedback. He particularly hopes it is cross-generational.

McGunagle knows there are many individuals like him, and families like his, living quietly in Westport. Now he wants to find them, and bring them together for support, education and excitement.

To learn more, email westportctpride@gmail.com.

34 responses to “Westporter Asks: Where Is The LGBTQ Community?

  1. Linda Sugarman

    One of the problems with all specialized groups is that they envision themselves as separate and apart and so immediately feel ‘left out’ in a way from their conception on. It leaves one feeling alone and less powerful.
    One thing to try is to try ‘fitting in’. Assume that you are like everyone else under the skin. Assume that you have exactly the same concerns for your children and loved ones as everyone else does- because you do!!
    The problem with overpopulation is that everyone has a large bunch of people like them and the ‘community’ of people starts to fall apart into factions because you no longer NEED the support of people who are not like you. When people NEED each other, they look for and find the commonality and so they all belong to a more diverse group!!

    Try not to specialize so much and you will bring out the willingness of others to join ‘your group’ when it does not feel like you have to put aside the rest of everybody in order to stand out.
    A Pastor or a community leader has to be really good at understanding the ‘everybody’ in the ‘nature of man’- the Homo Sapian Sapians of the species.

  2. Cheryl McKenna

    Linda Sugarman’s reply was so appreciated to me. I read this and had a big sigh and tired thought. We are all living here and care about the same things. Let’s be together to celebrate your kids and your successes. I guess as a straight older woman I don’t feel the lonely life of hiding . If this is a request to find your people I get it. It’s just that we love you too and want to be part of all Westport’s creative interesting intelligent people no matter who they love.

  3. Promoting awareness is not inconsistent with “fitting in,” and everybody loves a parade (but after this virus ends). There are many advocates in Westport for many causes – you guys fit in just fine.

  4. Wow. I sense a lot of fear on the part of the commenters here. Based on these tone deaf comments, it sounds to me like everyone wants people to just blend, to not stand out in any way, unless of course it’s the ‘normal’ ways of sports or other holidays that have always been something to celebrate in Westport with parades and lights and flags. Why not fly rainbow flags along the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen bridge during Pride Month? For sure, there should be more support for the high school groups, as well as mentoring and programs so people of any age can come out to their families and friends, and people of all ages know they are backed by their community and feel more secure being who they are. Fitting in to some groups means hiding, even in liberal Westport — why doesn’t Westport step up and show that we are actually are who we claim to be?

  5. Linda Montecalvo

    Thanks Dan for this beautiful post. The diversity we enjoy in Westport is the #1 thing I love about Westport.

  6. I am so pleased to read this post and hope I somehow meet this new Westport family. I LOVE the idea of festooning our bridge with rainbow flags during Pride Month. Westport is a remarkable community and offers so much for a wide range of people. I spent 50 years as an educator, and have said often that my last 11 years working in Westport were my finest, mainly because I was accepted for who I am. No more hiding was required. Also, let’s not forget that attracting LGBTQ people to Westport will be good for our struggling businesses. Let’s get the word out to everyone outside of our state looking to find a new community to live in. Westport is special in so many ways. I love it here. So in my opinion, BRING ON THE PARADE!

  7. Hilary Nordholm

    Dan thank you for a wonderful post and shedding light on this issue. I would be THRILLED to live in a community that celebrated the initiatives proposed above and would support 100%!!

  8. Dan, please give him my email. Suzanne and I would be more than happy to give him an update. Rozanne rozannegates@optonline.net

  9. “Specialized groups?”

    I think Linda Sugarman may have meant marginalized groups. Gays have only been able to marry legally for a decade or so. Right to marriage remains visibly under threat (See Thomas’ and Alito’s recent righting– and last night’s elevation of Barrett who refuses to see gay marriage as “settled law”).

    So while we may the same “under the skin”, Linda, your rights are not being threatened. Mine are.

    51 years after Stonewall violence against gays and transgendered individuals is going up– not down. I’m not sure straight women in Westport are finding themselves on the wrong side of the same trend. Maybe that’s why some choose a “lonely life of hiding.” I don’t. I won’t.

    Community brings safety, affiliation and political power. I agree with John Dodig and others here who are ready to bring in the parade, and, want to ensure that Westport remains comfortable– even approachable– for GLBT individuals and their families.

    Jack Menz is also correct. Understanding begins with awareness– and what better place to promote awareness of the GLBT families and friends living among us than right here at home?

  10. Lorelei Atwood

    “Specialized” people, as someone here called them, wouldn’t feel left out if the culture around them didn’t make them feel that way. I applaud Brian McGunagle’s willingness to put himself out there, and to include others, regardless of their identity. It’s about inclusiveness, and not merely blending in. We’re all in need of community right now. I for one am grateful for the outspoken among us who seek to bring us together under the flag of humanity.

  11. Lisa Summerfield

    I love this idea – myself and my family will happily support in any way we can.

  12. People who are in straight/heterosexual relationships don’t need to be aware of heterosexual privilege. As someone with an opposite-sex significant other, you can:
    – Hold hands in public with your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/spouse without being stared at or looked upon with hostility or even fearing bodily self-harm
    – Talk about your day-to-day life without people only hearing the part where you mentioned that you went pumpkin-picking with your same-sex spouse
    – Never fear that being open about your relationship may cost you a job, particularly when working with youth
    – Know that your preferred house of worship will accept you
    – Be assured that handymen, business owners, and other workers will treat you no differently when they find out your co-habitator is of the same gender
    – Avoid questions such as “when did you realize you were straight;” “Have you ever been with someone of the same sex – maybe you just don’t know what you like;” or “don’t you want kids?”

    Please, folks, when you say you don’t want differences to be pointed out, what you’re really saying is that you want everyone to be just like you so you can stay comfortable. But that’s not how we grow as a society or as individuals. Excavate your privilege and consider making Westport as comfortable for others as it evidently is for you.

    • I love all these ideas too! I would be thrilled if our LGBTQ community knew that they are supported and valued in our town and that others felt welcome and excited to join our community. I especially love the idea of supporting the LGBTQ youth in town. I can’t wait to see what comes from these ideas and hope to have a part in it.

  13. I think the idea of an exhibit and related events at the Westport Museum for History & Culture is terrific. And hopefully such an exhibit would include something about Dan, who was one of the first openly gay high school coaches in the country and who has done so much to address homophobia in sports.

  14. Linda Sugarman

    I’m Very sorry about the term ‘fitting in’ I guess I actually don’t have the worries that many have had because I have never believed that I wasn’t part of a group even when I was rejected.
    What I was trying to say but expressed poorly is, why not assume that you are part of the group from the beginning? Now especially as the vole from many corners is that we are all accepted by each other, why reinforce the belief that we are not.
    Hopefully, all of this voting that is finally being done by everyone is making it clear that the old ‘silent majority’ – the apathetic voters- is really feeling and ready to express that we ARE a community that is working and can work together in our hearts already. So let’s live it!!
    If we continue to assume that we are separate with separate needs, our diversity devolves into our differences and we end up with worrying about power again.
    The only power that we have is the ability to be strongly who we are. If we want that to be people who work together for a healthier planet and healthier children AND adults, that’s what we have to work on achieving within ourselves and between each other. And when we get good at it, we will see it, recognize it, and go with it in trust!!
    If we assume that we have to fight for it, we will just end up with a never ending line of Trumps. Each one worse than the last. There is always a ‘faster gun’ everywhere.

  15. Danielle Teplica

    Yes, please! All of those ideas sound like very positive additions to life and culture in Westport! I especially love the thought of a painted rainbow crosswalk to acknowledge, welcome and celebrate LGBTQ people. I’m a straight woman, but I love all of those ideas and imagine our town as an even happier community for them. I’d suggest some live music events (post COVID) that celebrated the LGBTQ community as well, to help bring a larger group together and a speaker series at the library.

  16. Danielle Dobin

    These are all such great ideas! Westport is really special in that our town has an official town committee -TEAM Westport – focused on achieving, celebrating and extending diversity with respect to race, ethnicity, religion, LGBTQI & gender presentation in Westport. Brian – I hope you’ll come to a future meeting (they are all open to the public) and hopefully TEAM can help lend some support to your beautiful vision. You seem like you’d be a great fit as a future leader on TEAM as well.

  17. Linda Sugarman

    I guess I have always experienced my adult life from within one artist community or another even though I was not one. But all of the Gay and Lesbian married people that I’ve known over the last 60 years just acted like they were. They just were amongst their friends and practiced it ceremoniously when they felt it. That goes for Black, Red, and Yellow distinctions and everything else including ‘crazy Artist’!! I guess I’ve had Kind of a sheltered life in that way.
    But experiencing that and seeing that a huge ‘majority’ of the people are even voting openly for all of it, I had hoped that we were past a lot of the machinations about it and could just start acting like we are. Why can’t we? Are we now afraid of the openly crazy ‘Very white they wish’ minority that are trying to bully us back into the hole?
    Come on STAND UP!! Your community IS FINALLY BEHIND YOU!!!
    AND, of course, VOTE but do it EVERY DAY LIKE YOU BELIEVE IT!!

    Sorry, I won’t write any more. But geeze people.
    Dan, if this writing too much don’t print it!!

    • It’s not okay to use “Red” and “Yellow” to refer to people. And I totally support the initiatives mentioned in the article for finding and celebrating LGBTQ+ community.

      • James Waldron

        Westport, may be the,’Un-wokest’ community around. Always trying to be something they aint.

        Thanks Michele.

        • James, a sincere question. You comment constantly — 56 times since August 7 — and nearly every one is negative. You write sarcastically about the town’s residents, their values, their politics — you name it.

          You don’t live in Westport. So if this town and its people so disgusts or repels you, why do you keep reading “06880”? Why do you feel the need to comment so often?

          Is there anything good about the town? Why are you so fascinated with it? Inquiring minds (mine, at least) want to know.

    • Mary Schmerker

      I sincerely hope that Linda Sugarman continues to write and share her views. Some of the newer residents of Westport and people who comment may not know of the contribution that Tracey and Linda Sugarman have made to the fabric of our lives in Westport and in this country. They have been an important “voice” for equal rights, the arts and so much more. Thank you Linda for all you have advocated for. Keep writing.

  18. Meredith Kamo

    Yes to all of these amazing ideas!!!! ❤️

  19. Hi: Welcome to town! Christy Colasurdo here from Westport’s Wakeman Town Farm. I would LOVE to help you host an event (or several) at the Farm for the LGBTQ community in/around Westport for families to get to know one another and the community at large. It could be an adult shindig, ie. pizza + wine night at our wood-fired oven, or a family picnic with animal encounters/Farm tour, or a wine/cheese party, or a cooking class… With the Farm as the backdrop, I will be happy to help you execute something fun, meaningful, welcoming, and Covid-safe! Reach out any time: wakemantownfarm@gmail.com

  20. Thanks, Dan for this post; one of the two or three most significant on 06880.

  21. Nancy Axthelm

    So sorry I missed this original post.
    My daughter and her family were here this week, always safely distanced and enjoying their time with GiGi and extended family in Westport, so the normal chaos ensued!
    She and her partner/fiancé Jen and their 3 children love visiting Westport – but also love their town, Great Barrington Ma, where the cross walks are already rainbow striped and their community is also making a real effort to be diverse.
    My vote for sure is ‘bring on the Parade’ and flags and fun!!!
    We’ll all be there in rainbow colors!
    And welcome to town, Brian, Steve and Henry!
    Maybe a play date when life finally calms down?

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