The following article was created from a press release provided by Wilton Pride.
With the new school year beginning in Wilton on Monday, Aug. 28, Wilton Pride has shared information for students who identify as LGBTQIA+ as well as for the wider community. The organization has issued a press release with links to a “Back to School with GLSEN Student Guide” created by GLSEN (formerly the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) that focuses on LGBTQIA+ inclusion and awareness in K-12 schools.
Leaders of Wilton Pride said the effort is part of a commitment to creating an inclusive and supportive community in Wilton for those students.
“Recognizing the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ+ youth, we are dedicated to fostering a safe and empowering space in Wilton, where every youth can thrive academically, socially, and emotionally,” Wilton Pride President Farah Masani wrote in a press release sent to GOOD Morning Wilton.
Editor’s note: Farah Masani is a Democratic candidate running in this November’s municipal election for a seat on the Board of Selectman.
The press release also stated that highlighting initiatives and resources aimed at supporting LGBTQ+ youth and families for the start of school aligns with the organization’s “core values of fostering community collaboration, celebrating queer families and creating a safe space of inclusion.”
Masani said that although starting the school year can be exciting, it can be daunting and fearful for many students, especially those who identify differently — as she explained from the “heteronormative and cisnormative society where the default is straight and cis.”
“New classes, new teachers, new buildings, a lot of unknowns; there is a lot of change to digest and navigate. All this, coupled with the thought of possibly sharing one’s identity, oftentimes over and over again, can be excruciating and earth-shattering for our queer youth. Wilton Pride wants to empower students to advocate for themselves and get set up for success this school year by providing resources and tips,” Masani wrote.
This Back to School Student Guide with GLSEN contains information intended to help students start the school year, including tips highlighted by Wilton Pride:
- “Most importantly, you are valid and appreciated in your journey of living your most authentic life. It is OK to Be You. Start the school year out with this in mind.
- “Locate and identify a trusted adult at your school you can go to when things feel unsafe. A good way to tell an adult is an ally is when they display positive signs of affirmation and when they share their pronouns in their email signature or when introducing themselves in person.
- “It is OK to ask for pronouns and share your pronouns if you feel comfortable. Understanding the Importance of Pronouns is crucial for adults working with youth.
- “Check your school records and update [them] with current names and pronouns. Make sure PowerSchool is correct. The information in PowerSchool is what all the teachers new to you see. Make sure this is how you want to be seen and addressed. If you cannot change PowerSchool, it is OK to email your school administrator or trusted adult to let them know you need to change something.
- “Be a positive leader and mentor to another queer kid [who] may be struggling.
- “Join your school’s GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance)
- “Remember Come out ONLY if you feel safe in school“
Masani said that Wilton Pride has been collaborating with school administrators and educators who are working with students who identify as LGBTQIA+ in the Wilton Public Schools to help provide support and resources.
Middlebrook Middle School teacher Heather Schlitz is the advisor and faculty leader of the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) club at the school. She welcomes the resources Wilton Pride is providing.
“The first year of Middlebrook GSA has been a busy one. Our focus has been on providing visibility and support for our LGBTQIA+ community. We are grateful for the support we have received from Wilton Pride and the community at large and are looking forward to using this momentum to build upon. This year our goal is to focus on educational resources in an effort to contribute towards Middlebrook being a safe and affirming place for our queer students,” Schlitz said.
The PTAs at Wilton High School and Middlebrook have both offered backing and partnered with Wilton Pride, and Masani called Middlebrook PTA President Michelle Haggerty and WHS PTSA President Sue Robins allies and proud supporters of Wilton Pride.
“The PTA’s mission is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. We are committed to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment in the PTA and at all of our events for all, especially our LGBTQ+ families. We look forward to partnering with Wilton Pride and our community in the year ahead.” Haggerty said.
Robins echoed that commitment. “The aim of the WHS PTSA includes encouraging our students to start advocating for themselves through a variety of media such as clubs and attending PTSA board meetings. We are committed to our programs being inclusive of all our students and recognize the challenges that face especially our LGBTQ+ community. We are excited to be working alongside Wilton Pride this year to support our young people and their families within the Wilton community,” Robins said.
Wilton Pride also suggested resources from the U.S. Department of Education and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
- A tool kit put out by the U.S. Department of Education that includes resources of policies and practices school districts can consider implementing to support LGBTQ+ students and families, like using welcoming and inclusive language
- The U.S. Department of Education’s confirmation statement regarding Title IX protections of students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
- Recommendations from the CDC for schools to implement supportive policies and practices for LGBTQ+ youth and data about the benefit to all students who attend LGBTQ+-inclusive schools.
In addition to the back-to-school kit, there are additional opportunities that offer support and resources to the wider Wilton community. Wilton Pride also mentioned local organizations and businesses that have allied themselves with the group:
- Weekly Youth Groups: The Kids in Crisis Lighthouse Program offers a weekly social support group for LGBTQ+ youth and allies at the Wilton Historical Society on Thursdays from 3:30-4:45 p.m. Participants get to know each other, play games, and relax in a confidential and casual setting. The group is free and registration is not required.
- Weekly Adult Groups: Wilton Pride, in partnership with the Rowan Center, offers a monthly adult group at Trackside Teen Center. This group brings together adults to explore stories and engaging narratives that shed light on the LGBTQ+ experience and create community.
- Middlebrook and Wilton High School Student-Led GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance): Both Middlebrook and WHS have GSA clubs that aim to make students feel they belong as well as pursue LGBTQ+ projects that benefit the community. Students can come together to share experiences, offer advice, and build friendships in a safe and confidential space. Email Heather Schlitz Email Heather Schlitz for more information on the Middlebrook GSA and Kathy Weiss for more information on the WHS GSA.
- Parent and Guardian Workshops: Recognizing the importance of involving parents and guardians in efforts to support LGBTQ+ youth, Wilton Pride has workshops that provide information and resources for families, including fostering open and understanding conversations at home.
- Community Allies of Wilton Pride: Wilton Pride recognized several organizations as ‘community allies’ that signed a “statement of solidarity” with Wilton Pride and Wilton’s LGBTQ+ youth and families. “We thank them for their ongoing commitment to fostering an environment of acceptance and equality. You are safe at these organizations.” That list includes the Wilton Chamber of Commerce, Wilton Family YMCA, Ambler Farm, Wilton Youth Council, Trackside Teen Center, Wilton Library and Wilton Historical Society.
- Affirming Wilton Businesses: Wilton Pride cited local businesses that have “committed to be part of our affirming community campaign and show positive signs of affirmation by displaying a #wiltonpride sticker at their door.” They suggested shopping locally to “thank them… for creating a safe space.” Those businesses include Rise Doughnuts, Parlor Pizza, Point Break Tacos, Blue Star Bazaar, Classically Cate, Hunan Cafe, and Painted Cookie, among others.
- Faith-Based Support: Wilton Pride mentioned several houses of worship that welcome and support Wilton’s queer families: Temple B’nai Chaim, Wilton Congregational Church, Wilton Presbyterian Church and St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church.
- Gender-Neutral Facilities: Wilton Pride noted that the YMCA, Middlebrook School and Wilton High School “recogniz[e] the importance of creating spaces where everyone can feel at ease, [and] have taken steps toward ensuring all LGBTQ+ families and youth feel comfortable and respected by providing gender-neutral restrooms.”
For more information about Wilton Pride initiatives and upcoming events, contact Masani via email or text 512.431.1515.