opinion Newport Rhode Island

Dear Editor:

With the recent discussions about Newport’s LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual) visibility, existence of unhoused residents, and use of parks, we would like to share the details of a hateful incident that occurred at Vernon Park on March 27.

Rex was in their hammock by the playground, reading a book when a person came up behind them and asked if they were homeless. Then the person looked at the book they were reading, The Best of Assigned Male Comics, and said, “You can’t read gay shit in the park, there are kids around. I’m going to kick your ass, bro. Take your hammock and go.” Rex left the park quickly without their hammock. Later, Melanie and Rex went back to take down the hammock and the person came out of a nearby house. The person kept up the violent verbal assault, saying that Rex was not allowed to be homeless in the park reading “gay shit” and that the cops needed to come check their record. The person repeatedly demanded that Melanie vouch that Rex was not homeless. No amount of clarifying facts or logical inquiries would calm the person. Since the person showed no sign of stopping with the barrage, Melanie and Rex left the park and went home. Rex later spoke with Newport police and inquiries revealed the person was visiting Newport and lives elsewhere in Rhode Island.

Rex is very out as nonbinary, transgender, and asexual, and they often advocate for LGBTQIA+ people in Newport. That the violent person misgendered them as a man shows that he saw Rex as someone easy to physically hurt, and went out of his way to pick a fight with them. 

It appears that this person was upset not only by the existence of someone from the LGBTQIA+ community in the park, but also was upset because they thought Rex was homeless. LGBTQIA+ people, and especially youth and trans people, are far more likely to experience homelessness than cisgender heterosexual people. Up to 40 percent of all homeless youth are LGBTQ.

Newport has a long way to go in affirming and caring for its unhoused residents. Hostile architecture on Broadway, neighborhood groups advocating to make it a crime to sit on the sidewalk, and the embarrassing lack of affordable housing and adequate mental health services are just some examples of how Newport is systematically violent to homeless people.

If anyone thinks it is okay to be violent to a person they decide is homeless and queer, no one is safe. We all have a responsibility to work towards a future where Newport affirms everyone, especially those experiencing the most oppression.

Melanie Saunders, Newport

Rex LeBeau, Newport

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