Westport launches first Pride Month celebration

Photo of Amanda Cuda

WESTPORT — Being at home during the COVID-19 lockdown gave Brian McGunagle time to think about Westport’s LGBTQ+ community.

McGunagle, who is gay, has lived in Westport since 2016 and still had a lot of questions about where he and his family fit in town.

“As a resident with husband and a 2-year-old son, we’ve wondered ‘What does the community look like here?’ ” McGunagle said. “It isn’t a terribly visible one.”

That realization led him to start talking to people in Westport about how to give LGBTQ people — particularly those who are young — a bigger presence and voice in town.

So McGunagle founded Westport Pride, an organization that aims to create a more welcoming environment for the town’s LGBTQ+ residents.

Next week, Westport Pride is launching the town’s inaugural Pride Month celebration, starting on May 31, when the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge will be strung with rainbow lights.

The program will include a virtual panel discussion on LGBTQ issues June 2, a Pride Day celebration June 4 at Staples High School, a Pride Rally on the Jesup Green on June 5 and other events.

“We’re really excited to not only partner with groups in the community, but really feature them,” McGunagle said.

June is traditionally celebrated as LGBTQ+ Pride Month nationwide, to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan seen by many as a turning point in the LGBTQ movement.

McGunagle said he and others have noticed that Westport did little to nothing to acknowledge it.

“There’s been absolutely no pride recognition at all in schools,” said Westport resident Marjorie Almansi, who is part of Westport Pride’s advisory board and chair of its education committee. “We need to step up our game.”

Almansi, a mother of three who works at a nonprofit and considers herself an LGBTQ ally, said she’s heard from students who struggle with being different in Westport.

“It’s really rough to be gay in this town,” Almansi said. “Westporters like to think we’re in this super open community but that’s not how it feels when nobody looks or feels like you.”

The new Pride Month events are an opportunity for Westport to live up to its reputation as an accepting community, McGunagle said.

“It’s to create a space for our youth or those question who they are to feel safe,” he said.

So far, he said, the response has been positive. First Selection Jim Marpe is scheduled to issue a proclamation the day of the rally declaring June Pride Month in Westport.

“It was the right time to do all of this,” Almansi said. “The entire community was willing to embrace what we were willing to do.”

For more information on Westport Pride and a list of Pride Month events, visit https://linktr.ee/Westportpride.