Westport's Staples High School hosts first Pride celebration

WESTPORT — Julie Mellin had never been to a Pride-related event before Friday.

The 18-year-old Staples High Schools senior — who identifies as non-binary and abrosexual (which refers to someone whose sexuality is changing or fluid) — was helping sell merchandise as part of Staples’s first-ever Pride celebration, which itself was part of Westport’s inaugural Pride Month.

Even though June is typically celebrated as Pride Month nationwide, for years, there wasn’t much in Westport for LGBTQ people, Pride Month organizers said.

“This is my first Pride-related thing ever,” Mellin said while selling multicolored pens, stickers and other items. “There’s never been anything like this. I’m just so glad there’s a day where you can be open and just be proud to be who you are.”

Mellin was one of the students, staff and faculty members who said they were grateful for Friday’s celebration, which included, among other things, an anonymous queer art show, a station to make Pride buttons, a billboard celebrating Pride Month and a special display in the school library.

The event is a turning point for Staples and those who work and attend school there, said Kayla Iannetta, chair of the Westport Public Schools Pride Coalition, formerly the Gender Sexuality Alliance.

“I’ve had students coming up to me, crying and emotional, saying how grateful they were to have a day when they could really be themselves,” said Iannetta, who also is a biology teacher at Staples and co-adviser of the Staples Pride Coalition.

The school event was one of many planned townwide for Westport’s first Pride Month, which launched earlier in the week with a virtual panel discussion and included such events as a rally on Jesup Green, scheduled for Saturday.

Iannetta said she pushed hard to make Friday’s event a schoolwide “Pride celebration.” One of the cornerstones of the event was the art show, which featured photos, drawings, paintings and other art works, all by LGBTQ staff and students, posted without names attached.

Iannetta said it was important to her that the show be anonymous, to symbolize the steps that people in the LGBTQ community take to hide who they are. As with other aspects of Friday’s celebration, Iannetta said she wasn’t sure how many people would want to participate in the show, but she ended up with enough pieces to fill a 9-foot-wide bulletin board.

Staples Principal Stafford Thomas said he was pleased and impressed by how much work Iannetta and the students put into the Pride celebration, which he said he hopes will be an annual event.

“We expect to have this as long as it’s needed,” he said. “You get the right mix up of people to organize it, and you wind up with a day that’s a real celebration.”

Iannetta said there were a lot of things she couldn’t offer this year, because of lingering COVID-19 restrictions.

“A lot of moms wanted to bring in rainbow cupcakes, but we couldn’t have outside food,” she said. “Next year, I want it to be bigger and better.”