Sheldon Whitehouse Apologizes for His Sailing Club’s ‘Lack of Diversity’

US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island attends a press conference at the US climate action center on November 11, 2017 during the COP23 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany. / AFP PHOTO / PATRIK STOLLARZ (Photo credit should read PATRIK STOLLARZ/AFP/Getty Images)

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) claimed Wednesday he was “caught off guard” by a reporter over the last week who questioned him on his alleged membership at an “all-white” beach club in Newport, saying he is not a member there and instead is a member of a sailing club which suffers from a “lack of diversity.”

In a statement, Whitehouse said his wife, along with other relatives of his, hold memberships at Bailey’s Beach Club, but that he does not:

A representative of a local website recently caught me off guard by asking me about diversity at a beach club to which family members of mine belong. I was attending an unrelated event and wasn’t prepared for the question. At the time, I made the mistake of accepting her premise.

The statement continued:

I then checked the assertion and was assured that, first, the assertion was wrong, there is diversity in the membership and there are non-white club members; and second, that improving diversity remains a priority and an active task for the club’s new board.

Whitehouse went on to state that he would not ask his family to resign their membership, claiming they are on the “right side of pushing for improvements.” He said:

There have been calls for me to resign from the club, which I understand. However, I have no membership to resign, nor will I ask my wife or any other family members to do so. First, they are on the right side of pushing for improvements. Second, and more importantly, my relationship with my family is not one in which I tell them what to do.

While Whitehouse is not a member of the beach club, he announced he is instead a member of a sailing club that has a “lack of diversity,” something for which he offered an apology, and he said he will work with the club to “build a more inclusive membership.”

While I am not a member of the beach club, I do own a boat and belong to a sailing club in Newport. While this club does not have exclusionary rules for membership, it does lack diversity. Failing to address the sailing club’s lack of diversity is squarely on me, and something for which I am sorry. I commit to working with the club and the community to build a more inclusive membership and to better connect with the local community.

The beach club in question released a statement to the Providence Journal on Wednesday defending itself from what it considers to be “inaccurate and false” reports that claimed it is an “all-white” club, claiming memberships to the club have been extended to “people of many racial, religious and ethnic backgrounds”:

Recent characterizations in the press and in other commentary about Bailey’s Beach Club are inaccurate and false. Over many years, Club members and their families have included people of many racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds from around the world who come to Newport every summer. Our membership comes from all over the globe to our small club and we welcome the diversity of view and background they bring to our community.

Asked over the weekend for his “thoughts on an elite, all-white, wealthy club in this day and age” and whether those clubs should “continue to exist,” Whitehouse responded, “It’s a long tradition in Rhode Island, and there are many of them, and I think we just need to work our way through the issues.”

Whitehouse was also asked whether there were any minority members currently in the club, to which he responded, “I think people who are running the place are working on that and I’m sorry it hasn’t happened yet.”

Follow Kyle on Twitter @RealKyleMorris and Facebook.


Please let us know if you're having issues with commenting.