Wilton has changed quite a bit in the past year — due to local nonprofit Wilton Pride, it’s about to change even more. On Saturday, June 10, the organization will team with Wilton Library to hold the town’s first-ever Pride Festival with events at the library and on the Town Green, including an opening flag-raising ceremony.
Over the past year, Wilton Pride has grown from an idea to a fully-fledged 501(c)3 nonprofit hosting monthly events to raise awareness and visibility for Wilton’s LGBTQ+ population.
In addition to its venture with the Wilton Library, the group has worked with the Chamber of Commerce, the Wilton Historical Society and multiple other town institutions to make themselves an involved part of the greater Wilton community with an eye toward permanence.
At its center is Farah Masani, a longtime resident and a founder of Wilton Pride.
“I firmly believe that there are several families and children that are part of the LGBTQ community that don’t feel safe – that don’t feel like they can be their true and authentic selves,” Masani said on why she started the organization. “It’s time for Wilton to acknowledge them, and educate the rest of the community to what their needs might be.”
According to fellow Wilton Pride board member Jeffrey Busch, Masani drives the group with her vision and engaging energy. When she speaks to a passerby while manning an information table outside CT Coffee, it’s difficult to tell whether she’s meeting someone for the first time or has known them for years.
“She believes anything is possible, and she carries that with her in a way that moves the board,” Busch said.
Wilton Pride’s Beginnings
Masani credits Wilton Pride’s inspiration to a group of Girl Scouts who decorated storefront windows and hosted a pride event at Trackside Teen Center last June.
“The Girl Scouts started an amazing movement last year as part of their silver project, and it’s important to have pride initiatives throughout the year, not just for pride month,” Masani said. “We don’t want to fall into the commercialization of the rainbow flag — that’s not what it’s about. It’s about taking care of our families and children.”
Wilton Pride’s leaders have identified what they say is a need for more inclusivity in town — in an anonymous survey of residents who have become involved with the group, several respondents reported that they or their children have felt unsafe in Wilton coming out as members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“My daughter stayed closeted from all her friends during high school not because she did not trust her closest friends but rather because she did not trust the greater school community if it became public,” one parent said. ”There are long-lasting emotional impacts when you do not feel safe being free to be you.”
Goals and Progress
Wilton Pride plans to host an event at least once every month, focusing on different aspects they’ve identified as LGBTQ+ marginalization. It started in February with “Ask Me Anything,” a forum featuring a panel of educators and LGBTQ+ community members where residents could ask questions and learn about the queer experience.
In March, they hosted Queer Trivia Night with the Wilton Historical Society. April brought “Breaking Down Gender and Sexuality,” a community forum hosted at the Wilton Library. This past month, Wilton Pride marched in the town’s annual Memorial Day Parade for the first time.
Busch, who grew up in Wilton, found that to be a monumental shift.
“In Wilton, [the parade] really is the one event annually that every group is a part of. I know it celebrates our fallen, but it’s also an opportunity for everybody – the fabric of Wilton – to celebrate together. The fact that organizers said ‘Yeah, Wilton Pride has a place at the table too’ — as a person who’s seen what Wilton once was, it makes me want to cry, it’s so sweet. If only the little me could get a window into what Wilton has become and what it’s becoming.”
Busch and his husband were one of eight same-sex couples who sued the state of Connecticut for the right to marry in 2003. He recalls growing up here as a member of the queer community as difficult and isolating but said the town has shown a lot of growth in recent years.
“I hadn’t realized how much it had changed until joining Wilton Pride,” Busch said. “In that context, I realized that Wiltoners tend to be kind, and they are curious, and they’re looking around and seeing the LGBTQ people in their community and they’re just trying to figure out what that means. It’s not that old Wiltoners are coming out as gay, it’s that they’re seeing ‘Oh, this is something I didn’t realize my niece was, my neighbor is,’ and it changes things.”
Community Effort and Response
Multiple Wilton Pride board members and volunteers expressed surprise at the amount of community support for its initiatives. According to Wilton High School PTSA President Sue Robins, the response from the parent community has also generally been positive; Masani added that State Sen. Ceci Maher has also encouraged the movement. They have, however, received some ‘No’s’ from the town’s Board of Selectmen on a Pride Proclamation.
Wilton Pride board member Alissa Helgesen said the Wilton Library in particular has supported the organization, offering to host events in its space in the center of town.
“Our role is to serve as the center of the community,” Wilton Library Executive Director Caroline Mandler said. “The only way we can do that is by knowing what the needs of the community are and responding to them.”
Pride Month Festivities
In that role, the library will be hosting a variety of Pride Festival activities on Wednesday, June 10, from 1-3 p.m., the library will be putting on a variety of Pride Festival activities, culminating in a scavenger hunt that will take participants through town to search for local stores participating in Adopt-A-Shop, Wilton Pride’s collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce.
With Adopt-a-Shop, Wilton Pride aims to increase visibility for the LGBTQ+ community using signs of affirmation around town.
Dozens of local businesses have have paired with Wilton groups and organizations to decorate their storefronts in support of Wilton Pride during June. Residents can see their work in the windows of Classically Cate, CT Coffee, Tusk and Cup, Signature Style, Eco Chic, Blue Star Bazaar, Hunan Cafe, Parlor, and many more Wilton favorites.
The window designs were created together with teams from Wilton Congregational Church, Trackside Teen Center, Girl Scouts, Zions Hill Preschool, Working Moms of Wilton, Wilton Youth Council, and several more.
Although the decorations have only been up for a few days, the impact has been felt.
“Wilton Pride set such an inclusive stage for [the] Memorial Day parade by engaging the town and local businesses in supporting the LBGTQ+ community,” a local parent said. “My daughter took a drive around town yesterday and I believe seeing all the windows decorated for Pride Month had a powerful impact. She got up the courage to join us for the parade. I don’t think she would have had she not seen that very open display of love in town. And the reception by the town was like a big hug, warm and accepting.”
Wilton Pride is intent on continuing efforts once Pride Month finishes at the end of June; for July, Pride plans to hold a summer camp day activity and queer family day at Lake Compounce, as well as offer some back-to-school support in August. In October, the group will partner with LGBTQ-centered nonprofit The Trevor Project in honor of National Coming Out Day.
Wilton Pride also looks toward the long-term with sustained programs — currently, it holds weekly support groups for LGBTQ+ teens with Kids in Crisis.
For the future, board member Helgesen expressed interest in moving toward education in the school district, noting that she would “love to be able to have opportunities to educate teachers and school board members on what it means to be an inclusive community and how to make our community feel safe.”
As part of this education, Wilton Pride hopes to counter some of the misconceptions surrounding LGBTQ+ rights that they’ve seen around the community.
“As we talk about Wilton Pride within our community and reach out to broaden the initiative, one common theme that we’re seeing is that people are scared to support LGBTQ rights and issues because they think it’s a political issue,” Masani said. “We have to educate them that it’s a human rights issue!”
For now, the group is looking for more volunteers and board members — residents can follow Wilton Pride on Instagram to get involved. Wilton Pride’s board members emphasized that with recent news stories around the country of intolerance for the LGBTQ+ community, it’s important to support Wilton’s queer youth.
For Masani, Helgesen, Busch and others, this means increasing visibility by putting flags on windowsills and coming out to the Pride festival on June 10th to celebrate.
“It’s really easy to have events that nobody goes to. It’s really heartening to have events that people do go to,” Busch said. “It tells us that there’s a level of support, a level of interest, and a level of recognition that this really matters. It makes me proud to be a Wiltoner — Wilton Pride, it’s in the name!”