In a profound moment for the town of Oak Bluffs, the NAACP-hosted Progress Pride flag-raising ceremony at Ocean Park made its mark in history by joining towns worldwide in showing support of their LGBTQ community.
The ceremony, in celebration of the beginning of National Pride Month and the Island’s LGBTQ elders, youth, in addition to its straight allies, drew immense support from local Vineyarders, including Island officials, parents of LGBTQ children, and passersby.
A moment of silence was punctuated with acknowledging names of deceased members of the LGBTQ community to honor their memory.
The celebration follows a series of lengthy deliberations among the town’s select board and its constituents; the approval of raising the flag has been a focus of much discourse among the Island community.
Originally requested by Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, president of the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard, and Jenelle Gadowski, a member of the NAACP’s executive committee, the proposal to fly the Progress Pride flag was met with overwhelming support from the Island community, but still was far from guaranteed approval.
When met with resistance from the town, Doubleday and Gadowski assertively and carefully guided the debates toward societal progress while navigating a town official–made minefield of hurdles.
The request was ultimately approved by the Oak Bluffs select board in a 4-1 vote, with select board member Jason Balboni as the lone dissenter. Despite the initial proposal to fly the Progress Pride flag on the town’s flagpole for the entirety of June, the board emphatically capped the flag flying at two weeks.
On Wednesday, the show went on regardless, making barely any note of the uphill battle, and instead led the celebration with positivity.
Jenelle Gadowski, NAACP executive committee member and LGBTQ committee chair, who at only 23 years old has been a leading advocate on behalf of the Island’s LGBTQ community’s efforts to fly the Progress Pride flag in Oak Bluffs, was praised for her leadership, organizing, and her ability to navigate the recent stormy waters of resistance.
“Consensus building [can be an] inefficient process,” said Doubleday. “But the reason there are so many people here is because we’ve built consensus,” adding that Gadowski has been a significant part of those efforts.
In recalling when the NAACP “decided they were going to get down with the LGBTQ community,” Arthur Doubleday, who is an attorney by day, said he initially geared his focus to the logistics of forming a subcommittee, and that if it weren’t for Gadowski, the LGBTQ committee of the MV NAACP “wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.”
Raleigh Russell, straight ally and parent to a transgender child, said, “This flag means a lot, not only to my child and our family, but to a global community of all races and walks of life … [The Progress Pride flag] shows camaraderie, solidarity, support, acceptance, and inclusivity,” she continued. “It represents hope for a better future for our LGBTQ community.”
NAACP member Susanna Sturgis addressed the crowd, detailing her own experience within the LGBTQ community, spanning decades. Feeling unwelcome in Washington, D.C., in the midst of a precarious political climate, Sturgis moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1985. “It was a whole different thing [here],” she said. Although not lacking humor and levity, Sturgis’ speech drew attention to some of the history of the Island’s LGBTQ community, and the beginning of an enhanced coordinating of and accessibility to services for the then-named Lesbian and Gay Association.
Martha’s Vineyard is a “magical place,” said MV NAACP member and Oak Bluffs resident Toni Kauffman, “and yet we still have the same kinds of issues that any other place has.”
Kauffman, sporting a NAACP baseball cap, said the purpose of fighting for the flag to be raised at Ocean Park was because it serves as a gateway to the Island, and for visitors. “We want them to know that the majority of us want to live in a place that’s inclusive,” Kauffman said.
It was not an easy path to Wednesday’s event. What was seen by many as a suspiciously timed addition to the April 26 Oak Bluffs select board meeting agenda — which included the discussion of and possible vote for approving the request of flying the Progress Pride flag — the board introduced the concept of a town flag policy. The policy, which has been subsequently approved as written on May 10, prohibits any flags, other than those approved by the select board, from being raised on town property. Although the board’s decision to allow the Progress Pride flag to fly from June 1 to June 14 still stands because it preceded the enactment of the policy, the controversial adoption of the flag policy raised concerns over the town’s possible unwillingness to contribute to an inclusive and forward-thinking community.
The Progress Pride flag itself was created and designed by artist Daniel Quasar in 2018, and is based upon a reinterpretation of Gilbert Baker’s 1978 Pride flag. In addition to its rainbowed design — red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet, which represents life, healing, sunlight, nature, peace/art, and spirit, respectively, the Progress Pride flag includes black, brown, pink, pale blue, and white. The additions serve to represent people of color, the transgender community, and those living with HIV/AIDS, with the stripes shaped in a right-facing arrow, symbolizing both achieved and unfinished progress regarding society’s full inclusion of the LGBTQ community.
Few Island towns have expressed resistance to outwardly supporting the LGBTQ communities, with Oak Bluffs and Chilmark being the only towns that denied the request to raise the Progress Pride flag on town flagpoles in 2021.
As of Wednesday evening, Oak Bluffs has joined all other Island towns — with the exception of Chilmark — in collective support of the Island’s LGBTQ community and its efforts to proudly fly the Progress Pride flag.