While members of the LGBTQ+ community from across the Island were at a meeting in Oak Bluffs last week, asking the select board to approve Pride week events and the flying of a Progress Pride flag on town flagpoles, someone was stealing a similar flag from a church building in Vineyard Haven.
In a letter to The Times, Rita Brown, president of the Unitarian and Universalist Society of Martha’s Vineyard, called the theft from the Vineyard Haven church “an affront to the values of LGBTQ+ and of equality for which the Progress Pride flag stands.”
The NAACP, where Brown serves on the executive committee and as a member of the organization’s LGBTQ+ committee, released a statement about the stolen flag. “While we cannot know for certain the motivation for such a crime,” read the statement, “it is an affront to the values of LGBTQ+ and to equality for which the Progress Pride Flag stands.”
Tisbury Police Sergeant Max Sherman told The Times that the theft is being looked into, and the department is “keeping an eye out” for any potential similar activity at other churches that display the Pride flag. Sherman also said that there were no working cameras in the area, making it more difficult to find out what happened.
Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost asked The Times to submit a records request for the police report, but has not yet released it.
Brown told The Times that she considers this to be a hate crime against both the congregation and the LGBTQ+ community. “When something like this is taken from a church, “it’s [even] more egregious,” Brown said.
The church did not have cameras at the time, so finding the culprit will likely be difficult unless potential witnesses step forward. The church is located on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.
Brown said that this was not the first time a Pride flag was stolen from the church. Additionally, a few years ago, homophobic messages on sticky notes were left on Island churches displaying the flag, she said.
“The Progress Pride flag is about equity, equality, and human rights,” the NAACP statement read. “It is hard not to experience this as a hate crime directed against our congregation and the LGBTQ+ community … but hate will not have the last word.”
On Sunday, May 8, the Unitarian Universalist Church will dedicate a portion of its worship service, which was set to focus “on a call to action for climate justice, joining churches across the Island,” to address “LGBTQ+ equality and human rights for all,” according to the NAACP statement.
The service will take place at 11 am, and will be followed by raising a new Progress Pride flag to replace the one that was stolen. The church flag raising will be at 12 pm.
Additionally, said Brown, attendees will hear church bells chime 40 times to symbolize the Island’s projected climate change mitigation efforts by year 2040.