Taking Pride In Westport Schools

When Kayla Iannetta was in high school, questioning her sexuality, she had no resources. Lacking clubs or helpful adults, she was on her own.

Now a Staples High science teacher, she quickly signed on as an advisor for the school’s LGBTQ and allies group. (It began in 1993, as the Gay Straight Alliance — the first such organization at any Connecticut public high school. I was a proud co-founder. The name was then changed to the Gender Sexuality Alliance. It’s now called the Staples Pride Coalition.)

Iannetta loved Staples’ “welcoming and open community.” But the small group of Pride Coalition students felt they were not taken seriously by everyone.

She vowed to help. With her co-advisor, math teacher Nicole Giuliani, they’ve expanded the group’s reach. Members have given presentations to health classes, created a newsletter, helped plan Westport Pride’s townwide celebration in June, and served on a panel for the Unitarian Church’s 8th grade Our Whole Lives program.

Staples Pride Coalition members and supporters, at last June’s high school Pride celebration.

All were enthusiastically received. And all have convinced the members that what they’re doing fills an enormous need.

They’re forging ahead with a Gender Identity 101 presentation for Westport Toether, programming at Toquet Hall (movies, a scavenger hunt, a drag show), and a Google Form for students, staff or parents to ask questions.

As the Pride Coalition members talked, Iannetta realized that LGBTQ issues are not limited to high school. Middle school is where they first had questions, they said. Students needed resources there too.

Why not have a District Pride group? she wondered.

Westport Public Schools’ Pride Coalition logo.

Bedford Middle School principal Adam Rosen and Coleytown counterpart Kris Szabo were eager to help. Iannetta found staff members to help: Cassie Carroll and Christie Cardinale at BMS, Jennifer Peppe at CMS. Both groups are now thriving.

The middle school groups — called Bedford Pride Coalition and Coleytown Pride Coalition — are thriving too.

“The most important thing is education,” Iannetta says. “These kids are excited to be part of a change. They want to make Staples a better place, and middle schools better places for LGBTQ+ students coming up in the district.”

Iannetta is energized by support from administrators — everyone from superintendent of schools Thomas Scarice, Staples principal Stafford Thomas and vice principal Chase Dunlap, on down — and from teachers who ask questions about pronouns and seek inclusive curriculum ideas.

She and Sarah Magilnick — another Staples staff member on the school’s team of 4 working on LGBTQ+ school resources — are creating resource pamphlets, for questioning students and allies.

Yet as excited as she is about the new direction of Staples Pride Coalition, and the creation of the 2 middle school groups — all 3 are known collectively as Westport Public Schools Pride Coalition — she knows there is plenty of work to be done.

Even at the high school, some members feel the need to be anonymous. They’ve been rejected at home, or fear they will be.

But — like their advisors — they’re undaunted. “That just makes them want to do this work more,” Iannetta says with pride. “They want to reach younger students. And, maybe, their own parents too.”

7 responses to “Taking Pride In Westport Schools

  1. What a wonderful piece; and how extraordinary is it that our town has a school and a faculty that cares so much and works to encompass so many varied approaches to life….makes me proud to be here.

  2. charles taylor

    Great article Dan.

  3. What a wonderfully uplifting read first thing in the morning, Dan! Great work, all! โค๏ธ๐Ÿงก๐Ÿ’›๐Ÿ’š๐Ÿ’™๐Ÿ’œ

  4. Marjorie Almansi

    Kayla is an inspiration to us all. She works tirelessly to support the community. We are beyond lucky to have her. Kayla, Sarah Magilnick, Chase Dunlop, Thomas Scarice and Principal Thomas are paving the way to a more open and inclusive environment.

    Dan – thank you for highlighting a true hero and trailblazer.

  5. Janette Kinnally

    Absolutely great article to read first thing in the morning. We have some amazing community members here and our school district is truly forward thinking and cares about our kids. Growing up here and seeing how much community members still come together to help each other, really makes me so grateful to raise my children here. Keep going and growing together Westport

  6. So glad they are including the middle schools; that is so important.

  7. What a wonderful report and kudos to Kayla and all who are continuing to expand the work of the Gay Straight Alliance which was founded when I first became a school psychologist at Long Lots. I was proud of Westport and my buddy, Chris Fray then, and I remain so proud of the students who continue to educate and sensitize the town in better understanding gender identity and other LGBTQIAP issues. As the Mom of a gay daughter who is now a Mom herself, I am more than aware of the need for such efforts and look forward to the time when everyone can be seen as just another beautiful flower in a magnificent garden.