NEWPORT, R.I. — An exclusive Rhode Island beach club tied to Democratic U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse has broken its silence to defend itself from claims that it’s for white people only after the controversy garnered national attention.
Bailey’s Beach Club in Newport said in a statement Wednesday that the recent characterizations are “inaccurate and false,” The Providence Journal reports.
The organization, known formally as the Spouting Rock Beach Association, said its members and their families include “people of many racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds” from across the globe, though it declined to elaborate.
Jack Nolan, the club’s general manager, told the newspaper the club’s membership information is private.
WPRI-TV also reports the club’s president, Alexander Auersperg, also sent a message to members Wednesday in which he stressed the club does not “discriminate against any race, religion, or ethnic background when it comes to our membership process or to the hiring of our staff.”
Whitehouse, who was first elected in 2006, has faced criticism for years for being a member of the exclusive club as the scion of a wealthy family.
The latest flare up came after a local website, GoLocalProv, asked him recently whether the club was “all-white.” Whitehouse said the club was still working on diversifying membership and that he was “sorry it hasn’t happened yet.”
He’s since stressed the club does include non-white members and that the website’s original assertion that it’s “all-white” was incorrect.
Whitehouse has also said he’s not officially a member, though his wife, Sandra, is a prominent member of the institution, which dates to the 1800s and whose members over the years have included royalty and Gilded Age families like the Vanderbilts and Astors.
On Wednesday, the senator also disclosed he belongs to a sailing club in Newport which doesn’t have a diverse membership. He apologized for not pushing that organization, which he didn’t name, to do more to address it.
“I commit to working with the club and the community to build a more inclusive membership and to better connect with the local community,” Whitehouse said, according to the Journal.