Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
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Waving the P-FLAG

July 11, 2005

A P-FLAG meeting on Martha's Vineyard? I saw the notice in the M.V. Times, but I couldn't believe it. To go or not to go? Curiosity won out over inertia and an inconvenient time. I went.

P-FLAG, formerly Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, now Parents, Family, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, has been around for a long time -- but not here. Lesbian women and gay men do exist on Martha's Vineyard, though it often seems as if only we, a small circle of friends, and the handful of homophobes who think we're out to get their children know it. In 1990 I was one of two dozen co-founders of the Island Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), a mostly social organization that flourished for several years, organizing potlucks and eventually co-sponsoring an essay contest for high school students. ILGA's been pretty moribund for quite a while now. The last potluck I heard about (and attended) was in the fall of 2002. Now, it seems, the Vineyard has an organization for Parents, Family, and Friends but none for Lesbians and Gays.

Featured at the meeting, which convened at the Unitarian Universalist Society, were a husband and wife who had joined P-FLAG after their daughter came out to them sixteen years ago. They live in San Francisco but are long-time summer residents. While they told their story, I looked around and marveled that I knew only three of the twenty or so people in the room, though a few others looked familiar. No one else from old ILGA was present. Where were my former cohorts? Probably, like most working year-round islanders, they weren't free to skip out of work for a four o'clock meeting.

I listened. A very brave teenager talked about life at the local high school. The organizers from San Francisco offered strategies for curbing homophobic bullying in the schools. Time for a reality check: I raised my hand and said that last I knew, very few teachers in the Martha's Vineyard school district dared identify themselves as gay or lesbian. If the adults weren't willing to come out, was it reasonable to expect that students would feel safe enough to do so? Several people sitting near me nodded; I surmised that things hadn't changed all that much. A young woman who identified herself as a reporter waxed enthusiastic about a school "diversity day" planned for the fall. Having seen diversity days come and go, I wasn't surprised when she said she'd only been covering the schools for three months.

An elementary school teacher recounted how she told her students that she'd gotten engaged over the Christmas break, that her partner was a woman, and that they would both be brides. She said she wouldn't have dared to do this without the protection of the law. Somehow I doubt you're going to last on the Vineyard, I thought, and was surprised by the strength of my reaction. How ungrateful could I get? Here I was implicitly complaining about cowardly teachers, then bristling because a teacher showed some chutzpah.

It was past five by then; I had horses to bring in and feed, so I slipped out while the meeting went on. I was having a border-crosser moment: seeing out of both eyes at once and not being able to reconcile the images. My lesbian eye saw a female teacher talking about her female fiancée in terms elementary-school students could understand. My long-time-Vineyarder eye saw an outsider throwing her weight around without listening first. "Which side are you on?" started humming in my head. I didn't know. As I turned in to the road that leads to the barn, the two images coalesced: a not-too-distant future in which most people I know have left the Vineyard in search of livable wages and affordable rents, but those who remain can kiss their same-sex partners on Main Street.

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