Pride across the Islands

In an inaugural event, members of the LGBTQ communities on Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket share their stories. 

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Mary Breslaur interviewing Attorney General Maura Healey during the forum.

During the month of June, which is Pride Month, more than 2,000 Pride flags were raised across Martha’s Vineyard to demonstrate the Island’s strong support for LGBTQ issues. This was done with assistance from the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard, according to Jenelle Gadowski, the recent chair of the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard LGBTQ committee. Gadowski said the hope is that the conversation on LGBTQ issues and education on how to be an ally of the community continues throughout the year, not just Pride Month.

A forum was held on Thursday between the Islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, co-hosted by the Martha’s Vineyard Museum and the Egan Maritime Institute, via Zoom. Individuals from the Islands joined Maura Healy, the state’s first openly gay attorney general. Mary Breslauer, a communications specialist, facilitated the Prides Across the Islands’ event, which also featured a short video appearance by Gov. Charlie Baker.

Sen. Julian Cyr (D-Truro), an openly gay legislator who represents the Islands, and Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, president of the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP, were also present. 

Pride Across the Islands had six LGBTQ community speakers. From Martha’s Vineyard were Ethan-Aubrey Taylor, Lydia Fischer, and Gadowski. From Nantucket were Sean Allen, Aileen Dashurova, and Bill Ferrell. Each member spoke of their different experiences with being a part of the LGBTQ communities on the Islands. 

According to Frommers, Cape Cod and the Islands are a very welcoming vacation destination for those of the LGBTQ community. Taylor’s experience shares this sentiment of LGBTQ acceptance. A 2020 graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School, Taylor said coming out as transgender was a very welcoming experience and he faced little pushback. Taylor said he hadn’t faced any negativity with coming out, except for a couple of isolated interpersonal issues. In particular, Taylor said he was very grateful for MVPCS. “The teachers there were great. It was never a question of ‘How are we going to accommodate this kid who’s doing whatever he’s doing?’ It was always a question of ‘How do we make this kid happy?’” Taylor said his co-workers at the West Tisbury library were also very accepting of the coming out. 

Other speakers expressed turmoil with their gender identity and sexuality. Allen, who works at Nantucket High School, said he went through an “internal journey” since high school regarding his sexuality. Allen said the LGBTQ community have a shared experience of hiding themselves and “trying to figure out this confusing process of what it means to be a human, but also to protect yourself.” While Allen was able to find his own “queer clique” in high school, there still were not many people who were publicly open about being LGBTQ. After college, Allen returned to Nantucket for work, and he noticed the positive change that has been brought to school. More LGBTQ youths were finding each other and community. Staff members show their LGBTQ pride. Many of the teachers provide safe spaces for LGBTQ, and Nantucket High School has diversity training. “I think it can get increasingly better as we evaluate our curriculum and make more time for our community to come together to support each other,” said Allen. 

 

Fischer, who runs a farm in West Tisbury, said Martha’s Vineyard would benefit from a safe space or community center for LGBTQ people. She said this would help those who are still figuring out their gender and sexuality and for those who want resources to help their LGBTQ family members. Fischer thinks Martha’s Vineyard does plenty of pride events, but lacks education regarding LGBTQ. This can be a lonely experience for some who do not have a like-minded network. “Growing up on an island can be incredibly isolating for all of us, and that can be especially compounded when you’re trying to figure out how to present or how you love, or whatever that may be,” said Fischer. 

Gadowski also said it is important to provide a safe space for LGBTQ people on Martha’s Vineyard. In an effort to increase inclusivity on Martha’s Vineyard, Gadowski said, the topics of transphobia and racism must also be faced. “Our trans and bi black communities are the most marginalized within our community,” said Gadowski.

Many worked to provide more support for LGBTQ individuals on the Islands. Taylor was a part of building the MVPCS True Colors Ball, which took place at the Yard in Chilmark. The True Colors Ball was a youth pride event that came into being through the efforts of the MVPCS Gay-Straight Alliance. 

Dashurova actively worked for equality on Nantucket, beginning in the mid-1980s. During the mid-’80s, Nantucket had a “good old boys’ setup,” and only a couple of girls would be divided up among the boy-majority teams. Dashurova made her own team consisting entirely of girls, which sent a “message” that she would not conform to the norms, and would stand up for what she believed. This attitude caught the attention of closeted teachers at Nantucket High School. The teachers feared being fired if they came out of the closet, so they hoped Dashurova could help in establishing the support LGBTQ students needed. This helped pave the way for a gay-straight alliance at the high school. Dashurova said some people questioned the necessity for these activities, but overall progress has been made for the LGBTQ community and nonbinary on Nantucket. There are even some people in positions of “power,” such as the police, who are gay, lesbian, or trans, according to Dashurova. 

Dashurova and Allen also formed the Nantucket Gay Pride parade four years ago. 

The efforts and focus of the LGBTQ community also shifted with the times. Ferrell, founding editor for DayBreak Nantucket, said, “There’s always been a gay culture on Nantucket.” Ferrell came with his partner to Nantucket in 1990. Nantucket had many gay people, but they weren’t open about it at the time. The gay community would hold small parties, which were events where they could be who they were. Ferrell said for the better half of the 1990s, HIV/AIDS was the issue that united the gay men community together. According to Ferrell, the Nantucket AIDS Network was one of the strongest organizations dealing with this issue, supplemented by efforts from Provincetown. Another issue the Nantucket gay community was trying to push was the passage of domestic partnership. The effort was spearheaded by then town moderator Sarah Alger, and Ferrell joined in a leadership role a few years later. Domestic partnership was passed by one vote in 1995, years before Massachusetts would legalize gay marriage in 2004. Ferrell said there’s still plenty for the Nantucket gay community to work on, such as real estate, but politics has also become a focal point, unlike in the past. 

The final speaker of the evening was Healy, who Breslaur said “led the way” for more representation since her rise as attorney general in 2014. Breslaur listed Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel, the first openly gay attorney general in the state’s history, as an example of someone who benefited from Healey’s ascension. In relation to her position as a LGBTQ person in government, Healey said representation is very important. “You can be in a place where there are great people and great policies and ideas, but seeing is believing. You have to have representation,” said Healey, whether that be in local, state, federal, or corporate governance. 

Representation in the NFL was also brought up. Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib recently came out as gay on social media, the first man in the league to do so. Healey said this was significant, as the news came out from a sport like football, which is a very “macho” game. Healey said there were many “hater” comments, along the lines of “Why do we need to hear this? Just play football,” which she said shows there is still a lot of work to be done. 

Another type of football was discussed: Political football. Healey said she is very concerned at how the transgender community is used as a political football, listing the past bans from military service and the recent movement to ban transgender kids from sports. Additionally, Healey said she is “horrified” at the amount of violence transgender women from minority communites face. Healey said there should be an equality act on the federal level protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, such as being fired for one’s sexual orientation

Healey also said the Biden-Harris administration has been good for the LGBTQ community as it undoes policies damaging to them. Additionally, Biden has placed more LGBTQ representation in the government, such as posting Pete Buttiegieg as secretary of transportation and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health. 

“It’s been a hell of a four years for our community,” said Healey, referencing the Trump presidency. The fight for the LGBTQ community continues, but there should be a celebration of what’s been achieved for LGBTQ.

Gov. Baker sent a short video message for the event. He thanked the Islands for making an opportunity to “build this bridge” between Martha’s Vineyard’s and Nantucket’s LGBTQ communities. Baker made a congratulatory message for the celebration of Pride, acknowledging “we’ve made a lot of progress in certain areas, but we still have a long way to go.” He hopes this pride event for the Islands can happen in person next year. 

The event concluded with a viewing of a “very powerful” music video made by the virtual Democratic National Convention. The music video showed a performance of a remix on “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. Actor Billy Porter sang the song, and Stephen Stills, a former member of Buffalo Springfield, played the guitar.