Rainbow-clad Islanders gathered Saturday for the Vineyard’s first official Pride parade, hosted by the Oak Bluffs Business Association and the NAACP of Martha’s Vineyard.

The parade began at the Island Queen dock and then wove through the streets of Oak Bluffs, culminating with a performance from Hyannis-based band Funktapuss on the bandstand in Ocean Park. A large contingent of people walked in the parade and many more cheered from storefronts and patios.

It was a day for drag queens and so much more. — Mark Alan Lovewell

The parade was the largest of an entire of weekend of Pride-themed events, from a Friday kick-off party at The Ritz Café to a Sunday drag brunch at Oyster Bar 02557.

Arthur Hardy-Doubleday, president of the NAACP Martha’s Vineyard branch, first conceived of an LGBTQ+ subcommittee after attending a conference on LGBTQ+ issues in San Antonio. The committee found its chair in Jennelle Gadowski, whom Mr. Hardy-Doubleday met at a protest, and quickly began brainstorming ways to highlight these issues on the Island. Separately, following a successful Pride event at The Ritz Café in 2021, Sofie Green and Larkin Stallins of the Oak Bluffs Business Association had also been looking for ways to support queer social life, and Ms. Green first suggested a parade.

“When we combined efforts, that’s when this whole thing happened,” Mr. Hardy-Doubleday said. “It was like two parallel tracks had met and then boom.”

The groups eventually formed a 2022 Pride Committee, chaired by Ms. Green. Mr. Stallings, also owner of the Ritz, echoed the success of their collaboration.

“These kids were full of amazing ideas, and as an old, white, straight man, all I had to do was step back and let them do their thing,” Mr. Stallings said. “I just wanted to be there to support whatever we could make happen.”

Keeping the energy rolling for all ages in Ocean Park. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Making the parade a reality didn’t come without its challenges, organizers said. The two organizations had to get approval from the Oak Bluffs select board, and there was no precedent for a town-wide Pride parade on the Island.

“We had to change people’s minds and in some cases change people’s hearts,” Mr. Stallings said. “In the end, we won approval from the board 4-1.”

Ms. Gadowski credits community members who spoke at the board meeting for turning the tide in their favor.

“We had queer elders coming up to speak about how they never thought they would see [a Pride parade] on the Island,” Ms. Gadowski said. “We had high school students, nonbinary students, share what a Pride event would mean for them, how it would make them feel less alone. It was incredibly moving, incredibly powerful.”

Parade filled Circuit avenue, with many cheering from the sidelines. — Mark Alan Lovewell

To make sure that the next generation of Islanders would be represented at the event, the Pride committee reached out to Gay-Straight Alliances in schools around the Island, and the West Tisbury School GSA even marched with their own banner. Many attendees brought their children or grandchildren, and one man walked alone holding a cardboard sign that read Proud Parent. The man, NAACP member Stephen Power of Tisbury, explained that his child is nonbinary, and he was marching in solidarity with them.

“It’s a matter of acceptance and realizing that they’re their own person,” Mr. Power said. “[Parents] have to trust that you gave them the structure early in life and now they can make their own decisions.”

Latez Crawley-Atanasov, lead singer of Funktapuss and self-proclaimed, “very, very out black gay man,” was especially touched by the younger turnout.

“I just started to cry,” Crawley-Atanasov, who uses any and all pronouns, said of performing at the event. “I started tearing up, to see the younger generation and how far we’ve come. They’re the reason we can dress how we want, love who we want. I’ve done a lot of Pride events in the past, but it’s especially nice to be at a first, at the start of something new.”

Funktapuss lead singer Latez Crawley-Atanasov.

For many residents, the Pride parade marked a chance for the queer community to make itself known on a never-before-seen scale.

“I am so enthralled with joy,” said Al Smith, an up-Island resident for seven years. “I’m overwhelmingly happy. I feel so safe and heard and seen in this community, and it’s so nice to see it on a bigger scale. I see it in smaller scales around the Island but it’s so nice to see a larger appreciation for [LGBTQ+] people.”

The parade’s keynote speaker and longtime West Tisbury resident Susanna J. Sturgis represented the Vineyard’s LGBTQ+ old guard, many of whom had been pressured to stay closeted from a young age.

“I grew up in a small town that was not unlike the Vineyard, and there was something I heard a lot growing up, which was, ‘I don’t care what you do, but just don’t do it in the street or you’ll scare the horses,’” Ms. Sturgis recounted. “When I started looking for lesbians and gay men as an adult, I couldn’t find them. It was like everyone was inside afraid of scaring the horses.”

Susanna Sturgis talked about the long journey to acceptance in the community. — Mark Alan Lovewell

Ms. Sturgis’s speech took on a double significance in the presence of horses from Misty Meadows, all bedecked in rainbows and glitter, after they had taken part in the parade. Ms. Sturgis went on to say that the need for community and life-saving health services during the AIDS epidemic led Islanders to form the Island Lesbian & Gay Association, one of the first explicitly LGBTQ+ organizations on Martha’s Vineyard.

“One thing led to another, and somehow we ended here, which is pretty amazing,” Ms. Sturgis said, gesturing to the crowd gathered around the bandstand. “The really cool thing about it is that we’re all out in the street, and the horses don’t seem to be all that worried.”