June 14 is the day Americans celebrate the adoption of the Stars and Stripes at the Second Continental Congress. Since 1777, when the flag represented 13 colonies and had only 13 stars, Flag Day has honored the U.S. flag over the years in all the iterations that ultimately led to the present 50-star flag.
The month of June is LGBTQ Pride Month, a time for reflection, celebration, and advocacy in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer communities. Pride Month also commemorates the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village, N.Y. — clashes triggered by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar, that escalated when the city deployed riot police.
The Vineyard’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chose West Tisbury’s select board as the first body it would ask to approve flying the Progressive Pride flag for the month of June. The Progressive Pride flag is a variant of the multicolored LGBTQ Pride flag with added chevrons meant to encompass marginalized people of color and indigenous people.
Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, president of the Vineyard’s NAACP chapter, and Jennelle Gadowski, a member of the chapter’s executive committee and chair of the chapter’s LGBTQ issues committee, came before the board June 2 to request the proessive flag be placed on the town hall flagpole.
“As a person who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and didn’t come out of the closet until I was about to graduate from law school, I think that it’s important that this community show outwardly its acceptance,” Hardy-Doubleday said. He likened running the flag up the town flagpole to displaying a symbol of hope. “And I just hope that by raising this flag over town hall, that there will be youth that will look at it and understand that this community accepts them,” he said.
This was a view shared by Gadowski, who said she hopes people will “see that that symbol, that flag, is a reminder that they are respected, that they are welcomed, and they are safe in our town, in our community on this Island.” Gadowski said the Pride flag is an inspiration for her.
“I know for me,” she said, “I drive by a house in West Tisbury that has a Black Lives Matter flag and a Pride flag and the amount of joy it brings me every single day knowing that’s there — no matter how bad a day I’m having … I really want to bring that feeling of comfort and security and hope to all of our community members, whether they are out or not; it’s really important that we as a community uplift all of us.”
Select board member Kent Healy said he supported the NAACP’s efforts but couldn’t support such a flag on town property. “I would encourage their efforts, but I think only the town, state, or national flag should be raised on a town flagpole,” Healy said.
Select board chair Skipper Manter asked if it was established practice or law that might prevent such a flag from flying on town property. “Probably both,” Healy said.
Town administrator Jennifer Rand said flying the flag appeared permissible so long as the U.S. flag remained the uppermost flag on the flagpole and the U.S. flag wasn’t smaller than the flag or flags beneath it.
“I think the legal question is answered, right?” select board member Cynthia Mitchell asked. “Or at least there isn’t a clear indication that there are only certain flags that can be flown. Correct? “Correct,” Rand said.
“And if that’s the case,” Mitchell said, “and maybe if it weren’t the case, I’m going to take issue with Kent and say I agree with Jennelle and with Arthur. It’s an important thing to do.”
Manter said he agreed with Mitchell but in a partial nod to Healy, he said other organizations may want to fly flags on the town pole too, going forward. Manter said it “would be challenging for us to say no with no parameters or guidelines or policies … that’s the only issue I have.”
Rand said there may come a day when that is an issue, but pointed out the fact the town “resoundingly” supported a diversity statement at town meeting last year, and a diversity committee ensued. “This flag, as I understand it, goes beyond simply being a gay pride flag, to being a flag of support for marginlized communities,” Rand said. “And so we’ve shown support for this, we’ve expressed our support for this, and there’s a leg to stand on for the board of selectmen to say, ‘Here’s why we said yes, and here’s why this may be different when another time we say no.”
Town moderator Dan Waters weighed in with his support for the flag. “As a member of the LGTBQ community, and as a citizen of West Tisbury for many decades, I want to thank Jennelle and Arthur for their very eloquent words. I’m from a different generation, and one of the reasons I moved to West Tisbury is because I feel safe here, and accepted.” Waters went on to say, “We’re not talking about a group or organization here like the one you, Skipper, anticipate hearing from in the future. We’re talking about a segment of the community — a very broad, diverse segment of the community. This is a part of the fabric of the community.” Waters summed up his thoughts by saying the flag was about inclusion. “I already do feel included, but I know that as a young person, if I was Jennelle’s age, and I saw that flag flying outside West Tisbury [Town Hall], I would know that was my home, and I would feel safe here. I already do feel safe, but having that extra statement would mean a lot to me.”
The board went on to vote 2-1 to permit the Progressive Pride flag to fly at town hall and to be affixed to the West Tisbury Free Public Library. Healy was the dissenting vote.
Among other places the Progressive Pride flag can be seen flying is at Owen Park in Tisbury and in front of the Dukes County Courthouse in Edgartown.
On Monday, Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande said upon receiving a letter from the NAACP, he made the administrative decision to fly the flag, and informed the select board of that decision. “Owen Park seemed to be a good, visible location,” Grande said. “Town hall is going to have some construction work going on.”
Dukes County manager Martina Thornton told The Times Monday that Dukes County commissioners voted unanimously to approve the flag for courthouse use.
On June 1, President Biden issued a proclamation in support of Pride Month 2021. “During LGBTQ+ Pride Month, we recognize the resilience and determination of the many individuals who are fighting to live freely and authentically,” President Biden wrote in part. “In doing so, they are opening hearts and minds, and laying the foundation for a more just and equitable America. This Pride Month, we affirm our obligation to uphold the dignity of all people, and dedicate ourselves to protecting the most vulnerable among us.”
On June 11, President Biden issued a proclamation in support of Flag Day and National Flag Week (the week starting June 13). “Since adoption of the Stars and Stripes, Americans — and people around the world — have continuously looked to our flag as a symbol of unity and liberty,” President Biden wrote in part. “Our flag has sailed around the globe, and journeyed to the Moon and, now, to Mars. It has flown on fields of battle, and marks the resting places of those who have given what President Lincoln called ‘the last full measure of devotion’ for our country. Its prominence at civic landmarks and seats of public authority communicates the promise of democracy — that under this flag, the rule of law is supreme and the people reign. As we continue the sacred work of building a more perfect Union together, let our flag serve as a reminder to us, and to the world, that America stands for and strives for the promise of freedom, justice, and equality for all.”