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.
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.
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.”