Jun 22, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Whitehouse says exclusive beach club has members of color

 Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, April 28, 2021.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse during an April Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. Photographer: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on Monday defended his family's membership to a private Rhode Island beach club that was reported to have all-white members and told reporters the club is "working on improving diversity" and has members of color.

Why it matters: Whitehouse has spoken out against systemic racism following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.

  • Richard Davidson, a spokesperson for Whitehouse, said the club has no "restrictive policy."
  • "The club confirmed for the senator that it has had and has members of color.  The senator is not a member himself and is not familiar with many members of the club," Davidson said. "The senator has dedicated his entire career to promoting equity and protecting civil rights, as his record strongly shows." 
  • According to Go Local Providence, which first asked the senator about the club, Whitehouse transferred his membership to his wife years ago though she is "now one of the largest shareholders in the all-white club."

Driving the news: When Go Local first reported of his family's membership at the elite Bailey’s Beach Club in 2017, he told the news outlet he thought "it would be nice if they changed a little bit, but it's not my position." He pledged to raise the matter privately.

  • When asked again by Go Local last Friday about the club, that's officially titled the Spouting Rock Beach Association, Whitehouse said: "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 told reporters the "tradition" he was referring to was that it was a family club. He also insisted that "the club has informed me that it does in fact have diversity of membership," per NBC.
  • The Spouting Rock Beach Association did not immediately respond to Axios' requests for comment.

Editor's note: This post has been updated with a comment from Sen. Whitehouse's spokesperson and has been updated throughout.

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