Oak Bluffs to consider flag policy

NAACP urges Islanders to show support for Vineyard's LGBTQ+ community.

Last year West Tisbury flew both the American Flag and the Progressive Pride flag at town hall. -Rich Saltzberg

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.


  1. While I am fully supportive of the pride flag, and the community it represents, I think putting it on town flagpoles sets a precedent that could cause some problems down the road.
    As a nation we have spent years making state and local governments take down their symbols of hate. Most notably the confederate flag.
    People are free to feel pride in their sexual identities, but people are also free to feel pride in the southern culture and whatever it is they think the confederate flag represents.
    To me, it represents a racist hateful and discriminatory mind set. But I am certain that not everyone who feels some sort of pride associated with that flag is a racist or homophobic.
    I certainly don’t want some hot shot “oath keepers” lawyer taking the town to court with the argument that the town has set a precedent and should therefore be forced to fly some symbol of racial hatred or homophobic symbols, or even a “Q”flag. The legal system in this country is seriously out of whack . They might actually win. If nothing else they could cause the towns to rack up some serious legal fees.
    Some people are offended by the LGBTQ community– they have that right. Many of the offended are devoutly religious. Good people who want to live by the laws of their god.
    And of course there are plenty of good ole’ boy rednecks who want to live to be stupid.

    I support the proposal mentioned in the article to specifically designate which flags can be flown. It solves a lot of arguments before they happen.

    On private property, you are able to fly whatever flag you want.
    Within limits, of course.

    • I could not agree more with you Don plus a great way of explaining it.
      Plus our laws, our government and serious division between our fellow legal citizens is in total shambles. Non enforcement, and changes of so many of our laws are causing more problems than we can handle, there no need to add more issues until we can square away the serious ones we have now.
      You are exactly right ~ “On private property, you are able to fly whatever flag you want.
      Within limits, of course”.

    • Don, the precedent has already been set. The POW-MIA flag was developed by a private organization. It is not an official federal, state, or town flag. I don’t believe it’s the official flag of any of the armed services either. But there it is, granted an exemption in the proposed flag policy. (More about the POW-MIA flag here if you’re interested: https://www.pow-miafamilies.org/history-of-the-powmia-flag.html.)

      The timing of the proposed flag policy is suspicious, to say the least. The assumption that allowing other flags to be flown makes the flagpole a “public forum” is also curious. Why not just affirm that at times it’s appropriate to recognize parts of the Oak Bluffs community by flying their flag on the town flagpole? The selectboard can still reserve the right to approve or disapprove specific flags. It could certainly turn down a request to fly the Confederate battle flag or a QAnon flag. By proposing a “no private flag (except for POW-MIA)” policy, they seem to be avoiding the option of deciding cases on their merits.

      • Susannna — I agree with you about the POW-MIA flag. I don’t think it’s appropriate either, even though my father was a POW in Japan after surviving the sinking of the submarine he was on, and was there until the war ended. I don’t know why that is already in there, but that seems to be an unwinnable battle.
        My point is that times change, and who knows what kind of people might get elected to office –Look at who managed to get elected president in 2016. Locally ,there was a candidate recently who dropped out of the race who may very well have supported running a confederate “Q” flag up the pole.
        I think it better for the town to just be the town and not endorse or discriminate against any group.

    • Why is it that the worst of us is so often used to restrict the best of us? By that logic automobiles and guns would be prohibited because some people use them irresponsibly.

  2. I think a Brazilian flag is more representative of the island’s population. If the island is trying to represent and support our community that’s a nice, genuine start. Not a political move.

    • What percent the Island’s population thinks of itself as being Brazilian in origin?
      I remember when the level of disdain for Portuguese on the Island was what appears to be your level for the Brazilians today.
      Just imagine the disdain for the first White people on the Island.
      What will the disdain be for the Ukarainian war refugees who will be flooding our open borders?
      Mike, when did you get to the Island.
      Did you remember to lock the door?

      • Ukrainians want to resettle in their own country, not the US. Relatively few refugees are “flooding our shores”. The countries that have taken these victims in are generally in the Eastern European area.

    • The Brazilian flag is the flag of another sovereign nation. Flying it *under* the U.S. flag on the same flagpole is indeed a political move, and not a wise one.

      • In 2019 the National POW/MIA Flag Act was signed into law, requiring the POW/MIA flag to be flown on certain federal properties, including the U.S. Capitol Building, on all days the U.S. flag is flown…

  3. How is it that the Pentagon has greater standing to display it’s preferred flags, than those of the citizens?

    • The same way every other government entity decides what flags it will fly.
      The military has so many to pick from.

  4. Food for thought:

    “When flags of States, cities, or localities, or pennants of societies are flown on the same halyard with the flag of the United States, the latter should always be at the peak. When the flags are flown from adjacent staffs, the flag of the United States should be hoisted first and lowered last. No such flag or pennant may be placed above the flag of the United States or to the United States flag’s right.

    “When flags of two or more nations are displayed, they are to be flown from separate staffs of the same height. The flags should be of approximately equal size. International usage forbids the display of the flag of one nation above that of another nation in time of peace.”

    From: https://www.military.com/flag-day/us-flag-code.html

    • Right?! My dad (WWII vet) drilled us on proper flag handling and care. It would kill him to see the tattered flags flying everywhere…

  5. Ted–I think your comment was in reply to my comment ?
    I agree with you that the worst of us restricts the best of us.
    But as a society, we have different opinions about who are the worst of us.
    BLM protestors ?
    Jan 6 insurrectionist ?
    As a small town, i think it better to not have to argue about whether to put up a “don’t tread on me ” flag or a Black lives matter flag.
    Keep it simple.

  6. I certainly don’t agree with everything Don says but I do agree with him on this. Keep it simple. We should fly only federal, state and municipal flags on public property. The one exception be the MIA flag because it speaks for those who served and can’t speak for themselves.
    It is an act of respect and gratitude.

  7. OMG, are we actually discussing this, because I think I know someone who would like to have a swastika displayed there on Hitler’s birthday. You can’t allow one without the other in a free society or it is no longer free.

    • You dont even have to go to that extreme Mr Terry. Just try to put a ”Jesus Saves” flag up. That flag wont fly.

      • Andy — the first Amendment to the constitution specifically mentions government neutrality when it comes to religious beliefs.
        That’s why a Jesus flag won’t fly.

        But I wonder what the conversation will be when someone wants to run a flag up that pole that symbolizes “white pride”.

    • That’s a strange definition of “free” you’ve got there — a freedom without discretion or accountability? The selectboard, or any government entity, can decide what flags it wants to fly on its flagpole, and ideally it will keep the community it serves in mind when it makes its decisions. Your “someone” is free to make a case for flying a Nazi flag on Hitler’s birthday, and if he does, the selectboard will be free to reject the request. (P.S. See David Smalls’s comment below. It pretty much says all that needs to be said.)

  8. “When a city or other government entity chooses to fly a flag on city property, this is considered government speech.7 Unlike the public’s First Amendment right to freedom of speech, the government is not required to display any and everything that is requested by members of the public. Rather, the city may choose to fly the non-governmental flags and commemorative flags of its choosing. It is recommended that the city council develop a policy regarding the types of flags the city will fly whether by request of a member of the public, city staff, or the council itself. Cities have broad discretion on the extent of its non-governmental flag policy. A city may choose to ban the flying on non-governmental flag outright, allow certain flags upon request, or allow all flags. If a city chooses to fly certain flags upon request of the public, it is important that the city reviews the requests in a non-discriminatory manner.”

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