The rain that chased Westport’s 2nd annual Pride festival from Jesup Green to Staples High School never materialized. So there were no rainbows in the sky above the courtyard.
But nearby, in the auditorium foyer, hundreds of rainbows were on display. Buttons, artwork, t-shirts, bagels — rainbows were everywhere.
The rainbow arch was a popular spot for photos.
And a rainbow constellation of Westporters — parents, grandparents, couples without children, 20somethings, clergy members, musicians, Police Chief Foti Koskinas, and scores of kids of all ages — smiled, applauded and hugged all afternoon long.
A small part of the large Pride crowd. (Photo/Dan Woog)
From the opening remarks by 1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker — who said that the sponsors, Westport Pride, have made Westport “a better community” — to heartfelt stories from people like former Staples principal John Dodig, former tennis captain Luke Foreman, current students and Amis/Terrain executive chef Jes Bengtson, to entertainment by very talented teens, and on through closing blessings by Temple Israel cantor Julia Cadrain, it was a day to celebrate inclusivity in our schools and community.
Luke Foreman describes his journey. (Photo/Marjorie Almansi)
The event drew nearly 1,000 members of the LGBTQ+ community, and many allies. They had — in both senses of the word — a very gay time.
Who doesn’t like rainbow bagels? (Photo/Dan Woog)
Staples Class of 2021 graduate Benny Zack returned for the event. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Former Bedford Middle School teacher Kerstin Rao, and Dr. Nikki Gorman. The pediatrician, and owner of Westport Medical & Wellness Center, was a featured speaker. (Photo/Bethany Eppner)
Rainbows were everywhere at Westport Pride. Kids’ activities included arts and crafts and face painting. (Photo/Bethany Eppner)
1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker, with an official town proclamation. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Former Staples High principal John Dodig inspired listeners with his story. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Westport RTM member Harris Falk dressed for the occasion … (Photo/Dan Woog)
… as did Rev. John Betit of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church … (Photo/Dan Woog)
… while former 1st Selectman Jim Marpe sported an appropriate tie. (Photo/Dan Woog)
State Representative Stephanie Thomas lent her support. She’s running for Secretary of the State. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Westport Pride founder and festival co-organizer Brian McGunagle introduced his 3-year-old son Henry to the crowd. They loved him. (Photo/Dan Woog)
Last weekend’s LGBT Pride celebration on Jesup Green was a fantastic community event.
Singers sang upbeat, positive songs. Staples students held signs, held hands, and spoke with strength and clarity about how it feels to be openly gay. Young kids had their faces and nails painted. Same-sex couples embraced. A gay father held his 2-year-old son, as First Selectman Jim Marpe read a ringing proclamation.
Meanwhile – for the first time ever – a rainbow flag flew over Westport’s old, venerable and very beautiful Jesup Green.
None of it would have been possible without Brian McGunagle.
Brian McGunagle and his son Henry, with First Selectman Jim Marpe at last Saturday’s LGBTQ Pride celebration at Jesup Green. The town’s leader read a proclamation — and wore a rainbow tie. (Photo/Kerry Long)
From a germ of an idea last fall — what would it mean to have an LGBTQ organization in Westport? — he created, in less time than it takes to birth a baby, a townwide celebration of pride and joy.
But that’s not all.
Brian’s vision, leadership and boots-on-the-ground work were the impetus for the lighting of the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge this entire month. Lawn signs that are sprouting everywhere. The summer-long “Merchants of Pride” promotions.
And much more.
Brian did not do it all alone, of course. Dozens of folks helped: his friends, oldtime Westporters and newcomers, straight and gay parents, and an astonishingly creative, active, visionary and fun crew of Staples High School students (inspired by biology teacher and Gender Sexuality Alliance advisor Kayla Iannetta).
But Brian was the driving force. He brought everyone together, oversaw countless Zoom meetings, did the grunt work, and moved mountains to make it happen.
He did it all too while holding down a fulltime job. And studying for the Episcopal priesthood.
John F. Kennedy said that victory has a thousand fathers (and defeat is an orphan). Brian McGunagle — proud gay father of 2-year-old Henry — is this week’s Unsung Hero.
And — hey, why not, since this is June — let’s call him Father of the Year too!
(Do you know an Unsung Hero? Email email@example.com)
Around the world, Pride Month — commemorating one of the first uprisings against police raids on gay bars, at the Stonewall Inn in June 1969 — is celebrated with parades, festivals, discussions and more.
Next month, Pride comes to Westport.
Actually, it’s already here. Formed just 5 months ago, a new group — Westport Pride — has developed an ambitious slate of events for June.
With dozens of members, from teenagers through grandparents — and hundreds of followers on social media — Westport Pride’s goal is to raise the visibility of LGBTQ residents and issues; increase understanding; provide mentors; inspire future leaders, and share the LGBTQ community’s culture and accomplishments.
They’ll do it with an array of events. Some are live, some virtual. Some will be educational; others, fun. All are important.
Westport Pride kicks off June 2 (7 p.m., Zoom) with a discussion on the past, present and future of LGBT life here. Panelists include Pride founder Brian McGunagle, Staples High School Gender Sexuality Alliance faculty advisor Kayla Iannetta, and members of that GSA. The moderator is … me. Click here for the link.
On June 4, Staples High celebrates Pride. The day-long event includes music, buttons, and an art show featuring submissions from Staples’ LGBTQ community. Rainbow attire is welcomed.
The original rainbow flag. Other colors have been added, symbolizing transgender issues and the AIDS crisis.
The next day — Saturday, June 5 (10 a.m. to noon) — is the Big One. The entire town is invited to Jesup Green for a Pride Rally. Youth (and non-youth) will speak, sing and perform. Clergy and political leaders will join together (with 1st Selectman Jim Marpe issuing a Pride Month proclamation). A rainbow flag will fly, and there will be children’s art activities too.
Westport elementary schools get in the spirit on June 15 with “You Be You Spirit Day.” Begun by a Coleytown Elementary School student in 2019, it’s a celebration of what makes each child special.
This year’s theme is “What Makes You Shine?” Activities include a Staples student-created video, suggested book readings, and a self-portrait art project. Children (and parents) can proudly wear “You Be You” t-shirts and other apparel (click here to purchase).
MoCA Westport celebrates Pride June 25 through August 21 with “Love Wins.” The exhibit highlights the issues, themes and conversations of the local LGBTQ community, and beyond. Featured artists include Staples graduate Noah Fox, and a mural designed by Staples senior Poppy Livingstone.
All month, a large banner — designed by Staples senior Claire Hanley — will hang on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge (which will be lit by rainbow lights). The project was a collaboration between Staples’ GSA and the Westport Downtown Association.
Baker Graphics offers Westport Pride lawn signs, with a “Pride in Town/Pride in Each Other” message. They’re available at the 1753 Post Road East location, at a Pride-special $10 price.
JL Rocks is one of many local businesses supporting Westport Pride.
Other businesses are joining too. A “Summer of Love/Merchants of Pride” promotion with Pride-themed items and events includes JL Rocks, Savvy + Grace, WEST, Franny’s Farmacy, Fourth & Pride Vodka, Bespoke Designs, Le Rouge by Aarti, Purpose 2 Purchase, Rosebud Slumber Parties, Grammie’s, JoyRide, Norwalk Crossfit, The Row House, Pure Barre, Amis Trattoria, The Whelk and Don Memo.
But Westport Pride is not stopping after Pride Month. In the works: a Book Club discussion with the Westport Library about the true crime story “Last Call,” a killer who preyed upon gay men (July 22; click here); a panel with the Westport Weston Clergy Association; events for Coming Out Day in October, and more.
Westport has a long LGBTQ history. The Brook was one of the first gay bars in the area — and, when it closed in 2011, the oldest continually operating one in the country.
Staples sponsored the first Gay Straight Alliance of any public school in Connecticut.
A Staples High School GSA bulletin board near the cafeteria provides education and history.
Fairfield County’s inaugural Gay Pride celebration was held at the Unitarian Church. It, and other religious institutions, have been strong proponents for inclusion for years.
What’s happening now builds on that past. It honors the present, and empowers the future.
I’ll be proud to see you on Jesup Green — and everywhere else — next month.
PRIDE PS: Senior Ben Zack says, “I believe we are working toward the very important mission of educating people, creating acceptance and celebrating the LGBTQ community in our town. Even more importantly, we are setting the groundwork so that youth who are questioning have a place to turn, an organization that supports them and helps reduce the struggles they go through because of fear of accepting who they are.”
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.=
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.
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