O.B. agrees to fly the Progress Pride flag

Board postpones flag policy debate post after hearing testimony from numerous LGBTQ+ community members and allies.

During a lengthy meeting on Tuesday, the select board agreed to raise the Progress Pride flag on town flagpoles in celebration of national Pride month. — Abigail Rosen

The Oak Bluffs select board approved the raising of the Progress Pride flag on town property in a 4-1 vote on Tuesday with select board member Jason Balboni casting the lone dissenting vote. The lengthy meeting was the board’s first in-person session since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was attended by dozens of Island LGBTQ+ supporters. 

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, president of the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard, and Jenelle Gadowski, a member of the NAACP’s executive committee, made the initial request to fly the Progress Pride flag on the town’s flagpoles for the entirety of the month of June. After some pushback, an agreement was reached to display the flag from June 1 to June 14th. 

The approval of both the Progress Pride flag raising and Pride parade requests on Tuesday followed a 2-1 vote approval on Monday by the Oak Bluffs Parks Commission to hold a flag raising ceremony on June 1 contingent on the select board vote, and a Pride Parade and celebration on June 11. Both events will be held at Ocean Park. 

On Friday, when the select board amended its agenda to include discussion about a flag policy, concerns were raised about how that would affect the requests about flying the Pride flag.

The discussion and possible vote of the implementation of the new flag policy immediately preceded the discussion and possible vote to approve the request to fly the Pride flag.

Select board member Brian Packish said the intent of including the flag policy discussion was not to exclude the LGBTQ+ community but to avoid any possible lawsuits by other groups who may be denied their request to fly a chosen flag. “While as an individual, I personally do not agree with third party flags being flown,” he said, “I’m not serving as an individual.” He said as a representative of the town he supported the request, but not for the full month.

After discussions about how the flag policy can possibly be altered, Hardy-Doubleday, who is also a practicing attorney, stated his unease about any policy. He responded to the various board members’ comments about how this particular use of the flagpole may set a precedent, possibly allowing any group to apply for their chosen flag to be raised. Changing the policy to allow for an application to raise a flag, said Hardy-Doubleday, could open it up to anyone. “You need to lead here,” he said. “Use your discretion. We voted for you, we chose you, we trust you.” The solution, he said, is simple: ”Do your job.” 

“If the majority of our citizens aren’t happy with it,” said newly elected select board chair Ryan Ruley on the policy as written, “it’s not a good policy. It doesn’t make sense.” While he understands the risks of a lawsuit, he added, “we, as policy makers, have to do what’s right for the town moving forward.” 

After much discussion, the board chose to postpone a vote on the policy and instead, work with members of the NAACP and Island LGBTQ+ members to form a “five- to seven-person subcommittee” in order to create a more inclusive flag management system. When determining how to navigate accurate representation, the board decided that the subcommittee should consist of mostly Oak Bluffs residents, but will be open to members of the community who may want to serve on the newly formed group. 

The board heard testimonies from the community. Among the speakers were LGBTQ+ elders and youth along with parents and friends who came to the meeting to support loved ones.

Doug Pease, one of the first to speak, asked the board, “Has town counsel done any sort of research on what the actual liability would be? Has anybody else in this country been sued for flying a Pride flag?” He added, “It’s 2022. It’s time to do the right thing.”

Referring to numerous statements by Balboni, Packish, and Ruley about not wanting to put the Pride flag on the same pole as the American flag, Stephen Power of Tisbury said: “This is a community that’s been hurt, been abused, and I think the town needs to make a statement that that hurt needs to stop.” Power continued, quoting JFK, “None of us are free as long as one of us is not free.”

Of the overall societal progress regarding acknowledgement of the LGBTQ+ community, NAACP member Susanna Sturgis said, “We’ve come a long way.” One of the reasons is due to “people making an effort to be visible,” she said, “which is part of what flying this flag is about.”

Referring to the board’s comments of the legal risks, Kathleen Cowley said, “The one thing you are risking by not flying the flag is the risk of alienation,” or “being like Fairhaven. Fairhaven is the only town in Massachusetts that has refused to fly the flag. I would really hate to see Oak Bluffs tarnished with that reputation. I just think we can do a lot better than that.”

Jo Orr, MVRHS class of ’19, began their testimony reading the definition of the word pride: “A reasonable or justifiable self-respect.” 

“That’s something I think that my community has a hard time finding because of the decades of shame,” they said through teary eyes. ”Pride, especially the Progress Pride flag, is a symbol for all the trans youth on the Island to feel connected and loved.” 

Orr added, “I’d like to take issue with the comments about putting it on the American flagpole. I was born in America, I consider myself an American. Most of the gay people that I know consider themselves also to be American. It is not a third party, we are a part of America. And to disqualify gay Americans from the flagpole is very exclusionary … The Oak Bluffs flagpoles are the most visible ones to tourists; it tells them what kind of town they’re entering. It tells queer people, especially ones that have never come here before, that they don’t need to fear for their safety,” they said. “LGBTQ youth are more than four times more likely to attempt suicide than their peers,” citing the an estimate from the Trevor Project, “more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ members between ages 13 and 24 seriously consider suicide each year in the United States.” “LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicides because of their orientation or gender identity,” said Orr. “It is because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society.”

Hardy-Doubleday said when he appeared before the select board last year, they made a promise: “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.”

Packish explained why his vote would be different from his personal views. “While as an individual, I personally do not agree with third-party flags being flown,” said Packish, “I’m not serving as an individual.” He said as a representative of the town he supported the request, but not for the full month. “The wheels of progress turn slow,” he added. 

Among options considered by the board were erecting a third-party flagpole. All select board members were in support of the concept as a solution to resistance of allowing the Pride flag on the American flagpole. “I am bending tremendously against my own personal beliefs to try to find a middle ground for today,” said Packish, noting that the third-party flagpole would be ideal, but due to time constraint, will be a topic for the new subcommittee to discuss and determine in the future. 

In a surprising move, despite various objections by the board, including Barmakian noting her preference for having the flag on just one flagpole — the one at Ocean Park — Packish stated, “Personally, if we’re going to put [the Pride flag] on one [flagpole], I don’t have an issue on putting it on all of them.”

In other business, select board vice chair Ryan Ruley was appointed by the board as the new chair in a 3-2 vote as well as a unanimous decision to appoint select board member Gail Barmakian as vice chair. Upon nominating Ruley for chair, Barmakian stated her interest in the position, adding that as a senior board member who was “overlooked” for the position last year. 

A vote had Barmakian and select board member Emma Green-Beach in favor of Barmkian, and Ruley, Packish, and Balboni in favor of Ruley. Green-Beach expressed her interest in vice chair but “deferred” to Barmakian, saying that perhaps she can nominate herself in the future.

Also, the request to serve beer and wine at the Martha’s Vineyard Sharks baseball games this upcoming season has been approved by the select board, with an agreement with Sharks President and General Manager Russ Curran to notify the police department ahead of particularly busy games, for monitoring. The original beer and wine license request being 30 days, the select board agreed with the condition of appearing before the board for an assessment preceding the team’s 14th game to ensure compliance with the town.


  1. The Select Board showed their weakness when confronted by a woke mob. Now the town is in a position to allow all kinds of flags to be flown on town property. Without a definitive policy how do we now prevent a Confederate flag or a Nazi flag from being flown? Don’t those groups also have a right to free speech? The Select Board should have done what their gut was telling them and disallowed any additional flags from being flown.

    • How do you know what the select boards gut was telling them? Did you ask each member what their gut was telling them? Or are you just hoping their gut was lining up with your beliefs?
      And for the record, I also don’t agree with the doors this decision could open.

        • I find your answer dubious at best. So, since I am an Oak Bluffs voter, and know 3 of the OB selectmen on a personal level, I am going to ask them if John Axel, or anyone for that matter, asked for their true gut feelings about the flag issue.

          • Mr Donovan, when some one has an opinion, is it useful to attack their opinion or let it ride?. You get a sarcastic answer from Mr Axel because he knows your comment is frivolous yet you continue with the frivolity. What is that?

    • John Axel, if you’d been at the meeting, or if you’d done your homework, you’d know that “government speech” is not covered by the First Amendment. The Oak Bluffs selectboard, or any other government body, is not obligated to give equal time, or any time at all, to opposing points of view — especially points of view that erase or endanger a significant number of the town’s residents.

      I’m proud to have been part of what you call a “woke mob.” As mobs go, we were remarkably well behaved, and as to “woke” — why do some people think that waking up to the importance of inclusion and diversity is a bad thing? It isn’t. Oak Bluffs has a long history of including people who were excluded elsewhere. The selectboard on Tuesday night voted to affirm and extend that history. I’m proud of them, and of all the citizens who took the time to come to the meeting.

  2. Proud to be from OB with this decision, indeed time to move forward and embrace everyone in our community. Thank you Select Board!

    • Kira–if flying flags is a way to truly embrace everyone,then the town will be obligated to fly flags from organizations that some of us might not like. Indeed , it is clear that some in this community are offended by the progress flag. Regardless of how I feel about the LGBTQ communities struggle, I now feel that the town should be legally, if not morally obligated to fly flags representing such things as “white pride” or any other offensive trash that some community members wish to celebrate.
      We live in America,after all, a country that prides itself on equal treatment for all. You have chosen to use the word “everyone”.
      Let’s just hope the rats stay under their rocks so you and I don’t have to look at some future flag that offends us.
      But kudo’s to the LGBTQ community for this symbolic victory in their struggle to be accepted.

  3. John — I agree with your comment except for the use of the term”woke mob”.
    They are simply people who are engaged in an uphill battle to become accepted members of society. Your derogatory name calling perfectly illustrates their struggle .

    • Don, your comment perfectly reflects those who are not accepting. Unlike the “woke mob” people like me really don’t care about their sexual preferences. We judge people on their merits, not some label. Most people don’t need a flag flown to reflect their worthiness, it’s reflected in their daily interactions with others.

      • If you’ve not been part of an identity that’s been repressed or discriminated against, whether due to sexuality, physical appearance, race, religious affiliation or gender, I’m not sure you can identify with the cause. I’m pleased that YOU do not judge people by their labels, but surely you can acknowledge that many less-sophisticated do……

      • Don’t look now, Mr. Axel, but the U.S. flag flies from most town, state, and federal buildings, and often the flag of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is often right below it. We don’t *need* to fly those flags. We *choose* to fly those flags, because they remind us of who we are and give us ideals to live up to. And I do believe that if any government body decided to take those flags down on the grounds that “most people don’t need a flag flown to reflect their worthiness,” they’d hear a few things from their constituents.

  4. Well, this issue is certainly going to help identify who are the homophobic, bigoted citizens of MV and who are not.

    • James– I think we already know that.
      You or I could list the top 5 without having to read another word on this forum.

  5. People on MV never understand the difference between discrimination and disagreement. On MV, if one disagrees one is a bigot. You must agree with all gender identities and all lifestyles or you are a bigot.

    • Andy– You say we don’t know the difference between discrimination and disagreement. Then you throw in a third factor– bigotry.
      Let me explain it to you, since I know that English is not your native tongue.
      Here is an example;

      If you think the high school should have a poison turf football field and I don’t we have a disagreement. No bigotry or discrimination yet. Just a disagreement. Right ?

      If I think we shouldn’t buy the poison field because the owner of the company is a Christian, then I am a bigot. So we now have a disagreement and bigotry, but no discrimination. It’s my opinion— I am not discriminating against anyone– Are you following so far ?

      Now, If I happen to be on the committee that decides who gets the contract, and persuade that committee to not accept bids from any company owned by Christians, regardless of the merits of their bid, we now have disagreement, bigotry and discrimination.

      Three very different things;

      lack of consensus or approval.
      “there was some disagreement about the details”

      obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction; in particular, prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.
      “the difficulties of combating prejudice and bigotry”

      the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, age, or sex.
      “victims of racial discrimination”

      • Very good comment, Don. You explained it well.

        I’d also like to add that there are few, if any, bigots in my experience who are content to disagree. How many would like to see gay marriage done away with? Our previous laws were discriminatory. You can’t call something mere disagreement while lobbying, or at least hoping for, frank discrimination to rule the day once again. This is why activism still exists. It’s not just about the parades. Real work has been done by LGBTQ+.

        Also, disagreeing with someone’s sexual orientation is like disagreeing with another’s height. I’m not out here living a short lifestyle. I’m just factually short. Disagreements should be reserved for matters of opinion.

      • Well played,, Mr. Keller! (Though your choice of adjectives to describe that field is bound to get some hackles up. )

      • Very good explanation. It’s not about who’s flag is flying, it’s about the hellstorm that could descend on OB if any organized group with an opposing view chooses to make this an issue. Like it or not, there is a significant percentage of OB citizens that have a different view of gay rights and don’t want them represented on their town’s flagpole. It is a divisive issue and the town has taken a side. Hopefully that will be the end of it.
        For all you wokes who are ready to scream “homophobe”, living in a country where even beliefs I find abhorrent hold equal value to my own is one of the most important freedoms we have. Ask the Jewish ACLU lawyers who defended the Nazi’s right to march in Skokie.

  6. Why has it become so important to “celebrate” a persons sexuality? The idol of the self.
    Strange times.
    Hey I’m straight! – Oh well you are the majority so no one cares. Maybe one day I wont be- I guess we’ll have a month dedicated to straight people in the future. Heck I’m going to come up with a “straight” flag to be sure I’m accepted.

    • Ha. Ha. Ha. Remember when some men responded to Women’s History Month with “We’re being discriminated against! How about a Men’s History Month?” and we responded with “There are 12 Men’s History Months in every year, haven’t you noticed?” Remember when some white people responded to Black History Month with “We’re being discriminated against! How about a White History Month?” and we responded with “There are 12 White History Months in every year, haven’t you noticed?” It’s like that.

      • Susanna — I remember when I was about 8 years old, complaining to my mother about there being no “kids” day. She smiled, and said “you will understand when you are older”, and served me my lunch.
        She was right, I grew up, and eventually got it.
        Hopefully, George will eventually understand about straight white privilege when he grows up .

      • Thank you, Susanna, you got that right. Although I am sure someone will disagree…

  7. I love the wording here. “Progress pride flag”. “Pride flag” doesn’t sound as good.

  8. George Kennan, a straight pride flag already exists. It doesn’t get much use for good reason.

    Pride Month isn’t about self-idolization. To come to that conclusion is to ignore historical fact. I know such an approach is now acceptable, even encouraged, but it’s not helpful.

    “LGBT Pride Month is celebrated annually in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots and works to achieve equal justice and equal opportunity… In June of 1969, patrons and supporters of the Stonewall Inn in New York City staged an uprising to resist the police harassment and persecution to which LGBT Americans were commonly subjected.”



    Not everyone is immediately familiar with the riots, and that’s okay. We all learn as we go. However, to make a bold statement about a group or event’s purpose without taking 0.03 seconds to visit Google is to give your own assumptions far too much credit. That degree of hubris could be described as prideful.

    Some would rather believe that folks randomly woke up one day and decided to publicize their orientation for fun than to look at the complicated, prejudiced, and documented truth behind an entire movement. That’s what I find strange.

    As for obsessing over the flag’s label, is that really the most important factor? It’s gone by various names. In practical terms, this group has succeeded in fighting some forms of discrimination. Maybe that’s what you’re really bothered by?

    The world is full of boastful and unnecessary displays of pride and yet you’re targeting one of the few examples where the context is functional solidarity. Again, it is a counterpoint to the shame that many would like this community to wear.

    If you dislike displays of pride, blame the bigots and abuses of power that necessitated a change. The flag became more popular after Harvey Milk’s assassination. It was never a petty matter of “I wonder if these pretty colors will annoy the straights” or “lemme brag about myself.”

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