Lighthouse, LGBTQ+ support organization arrives in Westport


Photo contributed by Phoebe Oler

On Jan. 30 at Toquet Hall, Lighthouse hosted its “A Night of Queer History” event at Toquet Hall. Dan Woog (pictured above), Westport LGBTQ+ advocate, spoke on the history—and future—of the gay community.

Lighthouse, a LGBTQ+ youth support group within the Connecticut-based organization Kids in Crisis, opened an additional location in Westport. Currently, there are three Lighthouse locations: Stamford, Greenwich and Westport. In downtown Westport, meetings occur every Monday from 5-6:30 p.m. at Toquet Hall.

According to the Kids in Crisis website, Lighthouse is a peer-to-peer social support group for LGBTQ+ youth and allies, striving to serve lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+ teens and allies with a safe, inclusive and recreational meeting space.

“The meetings are a casual space for kids to be anonymous if they choose and to share anything going on in their lives,” Phoebe Oler, Lighthouse Manager, said. “[We] also have fun. We play games and snack.”

According to Kelsey Dynia, Youth Services Program Specialist at Toquet Hall, meetings typically start with general introductions, in which all members may wear name tags and share their preferred pronouns with the group, before engaging in a casual conversation.

“[We] start with a light discussion at the beginning,” Dynia said. “Who are you? What would you like to do? […] We like to change up the conversation every time, just to keep it fresh [and] fun. And then usually we’ll lead into either an art project or a game.”

These meetings usually consist of various activities, including trips, barbecues, parties, movie nights and discussions with guest speakers, according to the Kids in Crisis website. Since meetings occur at Toquet Hall, participants also have access to Toquet Hall’s facilities, such as their arcade and pool table to use for team-building or recreational purposes.

Oler said that one of the goals of partnering with Toquet Hall was to stress that everyone within the local community is welcome to participate in Lighthouse’s activities and promote its mission.

Our mission is a positive response to youth needs within the community

— Kelsey Dynia

“We are an inclusive facility [and] a youth programs facility,” Dynia said. “I think [Lighthouse’s mission] aligns great with [Toquet Hall’s] mission as well because our mission is a positive response to youth needs within the community. So not only is it community-building, but it is youth building as well—feeling comfortable in knowing your own skin.”

Additionally, according to Kayla Iannetta, Chair of the Education Committee for Westport Pride and Chair of the Westport Public Schools Pride Coalition, Lighthouse and Westport Pride began communicating last year to introduce an additional LGBTQ+ youth support program to the community, particularly to offer a more private space for LGBTQ+ youth to express themselves. Or, as Dynia said, a space in which youth can “come and feel not only heard, but [also] feel like [they’re in] a place of belonging.”

“Lighthouse is unique from anything Westport Pride or the Westport Public Schools Pride Coalition has to offer,” Iannetta said. “A lot of students don’t feel safe to attend meetings at school or meetings that are more publicized, where they can be seen. They may not be ready to come out, may have unsupportive friends or family or need a more structured meeting with someone trained from Kids in Crisis.”

Outside of weekly meetings, Kids in Crisis offers a 24/7 crisis helpline at 203-661-1911 and temporary shelter for babies, children and teens who need a safe place to stay during a crisis in Greenwich. According to the Trevor Project, 45% of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year and fewer than 1 in 3 transgender and nonbinary youth found their home to be gender-affirming.

“Suicide rate for LGBTQ+ kids, the homeless rate for this population, the chance of being a victim of exploitation or violence or bullying is much higher[…] than in the straight community,” Denise Qualey, Managing Director of Kids in Crisis, said to CT Insider. “Part of this is really giving kids a safe, confidential place for a group that may not have that outlet in their school or their community.”

Furthermore, the SHS Pride Coalition plans on promoting Lighthouse as a “valuable local resource” to its members, according to co-president Hannah Fiarman ’23.

“I think Lighthouse’s expansion is great as being one of many growing resources within Westport to help support the LGBTQ+ community,” Fiarman said. “Like many of the other local resources, Lighthouse will help to further assist members of this community to be able to find their voice and to feel that they truly belong here at Staples, within Westport, Connecticut, and wherever else their lives may take them.”

Lighthouse plans on hosting more large-scale events in the future, such as its event on Jan. 30, “A Night of Queer History,” which included queer history jeopardy, speaker and Westport LGBTQ+ advocate Dan Woog and a free dinner for LGBTQ+-identifying individuals, parents and allies.

“Definitely keep us on your radar,” Dynia said. “We have way more fun things happening very soon.”