Mosaic Community Essays

—Sean O’Connor
American
Newport, Rhode Island

Returning Home

The Public’s Radio’s podcast Mosaic has a series of community essays. This essay is by Sean O’Connor, a science educator and co-owner of NewportOut, an organization that serves

LGBTQ+ visitors and the LGBTQ+ community in Newport, Rhode Island.

 


A little over 20 years ago, in 2001, I had to run away from this place. Rhode Island was too small for me and I felt stuck in an identity that wasn’t actually mine. Luckily, I had an out. I had some step family in Santa Barbara, California who were happy to welcome me there. So I stashed some cash I made waiting tables at the Quahog Company on Thames Street in Newport, packed up a hand-me-down Isuzu Trooper that my father gave me and I hightailed it across the country, stopping at National Parks along the way like the Badlands in South Dakota, Glacier in Montana and Yellowstone in Wyoming. I was 19 and full of privilege and possibility. And running from my roots, slowly I began to find myself and figure out who I was in this world. 

Flash forward almost 15 years. Many adventures, experiences, and moves. And years spent in southern California and Washington, DC. And I found myself being called back to Rhode Island. I’m sure many of you listening can relate. It’s sort of an expectation around here that if you leave, you always come home. It’s not true for all, but it seems it’s true for many.

The feeling crept in slowly and I would bat it away. Somehow the idea of returning home felt like failure, like giving up. At least that’s a story that had somehow lodged in my brain. But the feeling persisted and expanded. 

And eventually, I gave into it. I was trepidatious at first, and started dipping my feet in and out. I would come live here for a bit and then run away again. And on one of those runs, I ran to Colombia to a city called Medellin. I had some remote work and I thought I’d park myself somewhere in Latin America to attend to a long desired effort to improve my Spanish. Lo and behold, I did improve my Spanish and a person came into my life that swept me off my feet. Quite literally on his motorcycle, high in the hills above the city, with hot chocolate and cheese, a Colombian delicacy I had never heard of until that moment. 

Later that year, Dani and I came back to Rhode Island and made a home for ourselves in Newport, not far from where my parents had raised me. A new friend told us about an organization he had run called Newport Out that he was ready to let go of. We thought about it and decided to take it up. Newport Out worked in LGBTQ+ community building and serving as a resource for queer travelers and tourists. 

That was over five years ago. And on the weekend of June 25, 2022 we’ll be celebrating the 5th annual Newport Pride. We’ll also be installing Rhode Island’s first permanent rainbow crosswalk ahead of that weekend to serve as a visual symbol of inclusivity and welcome in our city. 

5 years ago I gave into Rhode Island. I carved a home out here with my partner Dani, an immigrant to this country. We’ve run Newport Out and started Newport Pride Inc as a non-profit organization. We’ve had so many amazing heart-warming moments in this work that we do supporting LGBTQ+ community. 

We feel deeply rooted in the city by the sea and in this state. There’s moments where we feel too rooted. And moments where I want to run again. But there’s something really special about investing in your community.

It feels a lot different here than it did in early 2001. The world has changed and I’m able to be myself in a way that I just wasn’t as a scared 19 year old. Yet the world is so uncertain and feels woefully chaotic much of the time, but it’s the work we each do in community each day that holds it together and inches us towards a brighter, more inclusive, more just future. Ever the optimist, that’s how I see it. 

To learn more about Mosaic’s community essays and submit your own essay, visit mosaicpodcast.org.

Jon Lavieri

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