DISCOVER QUEER NEWPORT
by Sean O’Connor
It’s not a widely used emblem, but the symbols used on the flag of the city of Newport are worth talking about. They include a depiction of Newport Tower in Touro Park and most notably the Latin phrase “Amor Vincet Omnia,” which translates to “Love Conquers All.” I’ve been really interested in the emblem. Entire books exist on how it came to appear on our city flag, but I’m most interested in what that phrase means today, and how it is a sentiment that we can bring forward in the way we build our community.
I grew up in Tiverton, not far from Newport.The Newport Children’s Theater was my refuge in middle school, where I could perform and be with other queer kids. Newport had a special place in my heart and I was drawn to its beauty, but I reached a point within my own development where I had to get out. It was integral to my growth and journey towards self acceptance. But over a span of 15 or so years, Newport kept knocking on my heart’s door. So when my fiancé and I spent time here in August 2017, we decided to call it home.We married.We
got involved with NewportOUT, whose mission is to promote the Newport area to LGBTQ visitors.We work to make our city welcoming, safe, and accessible to LGBTQ residents and visitors from near and far.We work to build community and produce events.
Last year, we established Newport’s first ever Pride weekend and, based on the feedback we got, it was a great success and long overdue. We partnered with the non- profit Bike Newport, and organized a bike parade, held a festival at the aptly named Equality Park, and hosted a drag brunch with Providence’s Trailer Park Girls. We brought 45 beautiful souls sailing on one of Newport’s impressive wooden schooners. There was more, and it was a lot for our first go, but we’re ready to do it all again in 2019 (May 31-June 2).
Newport has always been the oceanside sister of Providence, with a decidedly less queer and more buttoned-up vibe, with a bit of a drunken sailor reputation during peak tourist season. People often arrive and wonder, “Where are the gay people?!” Mostly everyone can appreciate Newport’s natural and architectural beauty, enticing folk and jazz festivals, beautiful boats and beaches (on par with South County and the Cape), oyster and seafood festivals, breweries,biking,bird sanctuaries,and nature walks. If you dig a little deeper, you can find LGBT-specific activities within mainstream Newport hot spots. NewportFILM's free outdoor documentary series is always a nice time to connect with other LGBTQ community members. Events put on by Bike Newport draw a great queer crowd. The Jane Pickens Theater is a local gem, and one of RI's only two remaining independent art house theaters; it's fabulous for a date night. While it’s true that the last bar specifically geared toward LGBTQ clientele closed its doors in 2006, NewportOUT’s energetic team is filling that void by persistently creating and highlighting new events for the LGBTQ community, so keep your eyes peeled.
For a small city of 25,000, we have a lot of LGBTQ people in town, and a diverse population in terms of age and gender. We have many gay and lesbian couples and singles in their retirement years. We have younger LGBTQ families. We have queer people here for multi-year assignments with the Navy. It is only fitting that Newport recently elected its first out lesbian city council member, who also happens to be a person of color.Her name is Angela McCalla. She lives in town with her wife and son and represents Newport’s 1st Ward. It’s thrilling to have an LGBTQ-identifying person on the council, especially when she is flanked by allied colleagues, including Newport’s new mayor, Jamie Bova. It’s exciting to imagine what we can create as a community over the coming months and years, like an LGBTQ equity coalition that our Newport Health Equity Zone organization is spearheading, led by your very own Options copy editor and contributor Rex LeBeau.
Nobody knows for sure how many LGBTQ weddings we’ve had in Newport in the last couple of years. It turns out, it’s a tricky number to pin down. But if you just browse through the NewportOUT Instagram, you’ll see many heart-warming ceremonies and receptions involving LGBTQ people. There are big, elaborate weddings at Newport’s Gilded Age mansions; weddings at Newport Vineyards and the International Tennis Hall of Fame; on boats and on docks; or small, intimate weddings like mine in a wildlife refuge in nearby Middletown.
Our organizational vision for Newport is one in which love trumps hate and people feel truly safe and welcome to be themselves, in all the beautiful ways that a human can express oneself. In many ways, this is right in line with the founding values of our city and state.
Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious freedom. Founder RogerWilliams,expelled from Massachusetts Bay Colony for his non-conformance with rigid Puritanical ways, believed in freedom of religious expression, and generally thought that people should live freely according to their own beliefs. However, Rhode Island’s colonial founding is rife with human flaw and oppression. Newport in particular played a major role in the transatlantic slave trade.Yet, as wantonly contemptible as the early white residents were toward people of color, the value of religious freedom persisted and spread. In 1658, Jews facing persecution in Portugal and Spain were welcomed here. Quakers came, too, escaping oppression and disdain. (Their Great Friends Meeting House, built in 1699, is the oldest surviving house of worship in the state.) African Americans worshiped freely in integrated as well as independent churches. And this separation of church and state became part of our country’s Constitution.
We at NewportOUT take inspiration from this founding value and reinterpret it more broadly for today as: the freedom to express yourself openly and fearlessly, whether that expresses who you love, your gender, your style, or your culture. We aim to bring this value to the forefront and see what more we can do to embody it as a community. We believe that love conquers all, and while we’re happy and appreciative that many LGBTQ couples choose Newport in which to wed, we hope all queer Rhode Islanders and visitors will enjoy this place that we are so fond of, while feeling empowered and safe to be completely themselves. In celebration of that, please join us in Newport May 31-June 2 as we kick off Pride month. Find out more at NewportOut.com/events, Facebook. com/newportout, and Instagram @nptout.