Updated 4/25 @ 2:30 pm
The Martha’s Vineyard branch of the NAACP and the Oak Bluffs Business Association will be appearing before the Oak Bluffs Parks Commission on Monday, April 25, and the Oak Bluffs select board on Tuesday, April 26, to request the approval of LGBTQ+Pride activities for the first Martha’s Vineyard Pride week.
In addition to a Queer Dance Party at the Ritz on Friday, June 10, Pride Parade through Oak Bluffs on Saturday, June 11, and a Drag Queen Brunch at Nomans — details to be determined — the organizations will be requesting that the Progress Pride Flag be flown at Oak Bluffs Town Hall, the Fire-EMS station, Police Station and Ocean Park during the month of June, which is National Pride Month.
Arthur Hardy-Doubleday and Jennelle Gadowski, NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard president and executive committee member, respectively, will appear before the select board, for discussion and possible vote, the request to raise the Progress Pride flag.
In a recent press release, The NAACP Martha’s Vineyard Branch urged the Island’s “LGBTQ+ members and straight allies to be present for Monday’s Oak Bluffs Parks Commission meeting (via Zoom) and Tuesday’s in-person Oak Bluffs select board meeting to show support for the raising of the Progress Pride Flag and Pride Parade.”
Tuesday’s select board meeting will be the first in-person meeting since the beginning of the pandemic and, according to the published agenda, will involve another flag-related item, immediately preceding the request for town acknowledgment and display of the Pride flag.
The other flag-related item is the discussion and possible vote on the implementation of a new town flag practice that will be addressing “the need for a specific policy” concerning “third party requests to raise and fly flags on town flagpoles.”
The new policy will prohibit any flags, other than those approved by the select board — flags of the United States of America, Commonwealth of Massachusetts, town of Oak Bluffs, and official military and POW-MIA — from being raised on any town property.
Depending upon the results of a vote to implement the town’s new flag policy, the request for the Pride flag to be flown on town property may be moot.
The suggested flag policy cites that “the choice of which flags to raise on town flagpoles is government speech,” to which the First Amendment does not apply, and in effect cannot “designate town flagpoles as a public forum by permitting third parties to raise flags.”
The addition of the proposed flag policy into the same board meeting as the one that will involve the request to raise the Pride flag has caused some raised eyebrows.
“The timing of the proposed flag policy is odd,” said Hardy-Doubleday in the press release. “There is no federal or state regulations that prohibits such conduct, so why is the town proposing a local policy that would prohibit showing support for the Queer community on town owned flagpoles?”
The release stated that in 2021, all Island towns, with the exception of Chilmark, agreed to raise the Pride Flag, although Oak Bluffs would only allow the flag to be displayed on a fence behind the Oak Bluffs Police Station.
“After last year’s Oak Bluffs select board meeting,” Hardy-Doubleday said in the release, “a number of select board members reached out to me and stated they wanted to do better in 2022. I cannot understand how doing better is prohibiting the Progress Pride Flag on any town owned flagpole.”
Adding to the concerns, Tuesday’s select board meeting, although classified as a “hybrid” meeting, meaning both in-person and via Zoom, will prohibit testimony from Zoom participants.
Additionally, the change to the meeting agenda, which includes the addition of the flag policy, will be discussed by the select board on a day where some Oak Bluffs representatives who would be advocates for the request by the MV NAACP will not be present.
“Why is Oak Bluffs, one of the most diverse towns on the Island, proposing a policy that does not celebrate the diversity of our town and Island?” Hardy-Doubleday cited the release, seconded by Jennelle Gadowski: “The Progress Pride Flag is a symbol of love, equality, and inclusion for every LGBTQ+ community member. Raising the Progress Pride Flag on Oak Bluffs means giving a beacon of hope and strength to all Queer residents, workers, and visitors, especially to those of us who may not have support at home and/or who are not ‘out’ yet.”
Although the NAACP Martha’s Vineyard Branch and the OBA submitted separate applications, for the Pride Flag to be raised, and for permission to hold the Pride parade, the two organizations are working together with a common goal — to put into effect the first Martha’s Vineyard annual Pride Week.
In regard to the select board meeting on Tuesday, Hardy-Doubleday told The Times, “It had always been the plan, since the last select board meeting, which was before the town meeting, that the OBA and the NAACP would be appearing before the select board to talk about the various issues around Pride. When we got the agenda, we see ‘the possible adoption of flag policy,’ and then we see NAACP to present raising the Progress Pride Flag, and there’s nothing for OBA.”
Doubleday said he immediately called Sofie Green, vice president of the OBA, to let her know her item was missing on the agenda. When asked about this, Doubleday said Town Administrator Deb Potter told him she had never received any application or information concerning the OBA’s request for a Pride Parade. Additionally, when Doubleday tried to inquire about the new flag policy, he was stonewalled, and was eventually able to get a hold of the policy through select board member Gail Barmakian.
When he read the policy, Doubleday said he immediately reached out to select board chair Brian Packish and never got a response.
Eventually the select board agreed to amend the agenda, Green said. On Monday, the OBA will appear before the parks commission for permission to end the Pride Parade with an event at Ocean Park. When asked if she expects any pushback from the commission that may affect her ability to hold the event, she said, “I definitely don’t feel it’s in the bag or anything like that … I’m hopeful.” She said she filled out all the necessary applications, and is following all the guidelines. The event is scheduled to start at 3 pm at Ocean Park and host speakers and a band, depending upon Monday and Tuesday meeting outcomes.
On the discussion of flying the Pride Flag on town property, which will be discussed at Tuesday’s select board meeting at Town Hall at 4:30 pm, Green said: “The OBA fully supports the NAACP. It’s been really wonderful working with them.” She added that working with Doubleday and Gadowski has been “a breath of fresh air.”
In the event the select board rejects allowing the Pride Flag to be flown, Green said, “I worry that something like this would have a blowback on the younger people” of the Island’s LGBTQ+ community. “I don’t want anyone to ever feel the way I felt when I was younger.” She added that as a gay woman, she got “used to not always being accepted,” which makes it all the more vital, she said, for the Island’s young people to witness and experience acceptance.
When asked about the intention of the proposed flag policy, Packish said, “it’s been a project we’ve been working on for about a year, and if you’re going to approve people to add anything to a flagpole, there should be a policy associated with that before you do it.”
When noting that the flag policy seems to prohibit any additions to a flagpole besides the mentioned government approved flags, Packish responded, “you’d have to read the policy to interpret what you believe it says.”
Upon a reiteration of the wording of the policy, interpreting it as an objective exclusion of “third party flags,” and if he cared to comment, Packish responded, “not particularly, no.”
Asked if the flag policy could allow a Pride flag to be flown, he declined comment. When asked about his personal opinion about flying the Pride flag or if he is in support of a Pride parade, he declined to comment, noting that expressing any opinion on the matter before the select board meeting on Tuesday, would “be in violation of the Open Meeting Law.”
Updated to include more information -Ed.