Updated: Apr 5
Frankie Vagnone and Johnny Yeagley moved to Newport in 2022 for Frankie to take on his new role as President of the Newport Restoration Foundation (NRF). They live on Spring Street with their daughter and grandson. NPTOUT had some questions for them about their time in Newport so far.
Frankie, what are you enjoying about your new role with NRF so far?
The position is a newly re-envisioned one. They asked me to join NRF [more on NRF here] and help define its work for the 21st century. My background is in architecture and I am a sculptor – so I am really pulled into complexity, and I love to figure things out – both of those things are at the core of my job as President of NRF. I love to take the bus to my office at Rough Point, meet people and learn more about the town as a year-long resident.
Have you discovered anything new or surprising about Doris Duke or NRF in your time here?
The public perception of Doris Duke is framed as an eccentric who had troubled relationships. In a way there is some truth in that, but, just like all of us, she was a complex person – she just had two pet camels! Doris Duke was one of the first philanthropists to fund very early HIV/AIDS research. Because of this AIDS research connection, Dr. Anthony Fauci remained on the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation for decades. Doris Duke had in her circle of friends a wide spectrum of LGBTQ+ folks (she was photographed at Studio 54 with Andy Warhol and Halston, among others). Although with complicated histories, many of her closest colleagues were members of the queer community.
I have often asked public historians and fellow Queer friends, “if there was to be a historic house museum created that displayed your life, what would it be like? What would the narrative be?”. As a bisexual cis-gendered male who has been married to a woman (with three children) and now married to a man (and a 2-year-old grandchild!) - mine would be complicated and messy – just like me and my life. In some ways, that is what I think NRF and Rough Point should strive for – showing Doris Duke as a complicated, messy, thoughtful person – who just happened to be one of the richest women in the world. That is a hard thing to do.
What was your perception of Newport's LGBTQ+ community before you came? And has it changed now?
Johnny: I was aware of the lack of traditional LGBTQ+ 🏳️🌈 meeting places (bars/cafés) … so my assumption was that a network of friends & allies would grow fairly slowly and organically. As we finally get settled in, and have now met some local mavens and connectors, our time here is fast enriching, and my expectations have been exceeded.
Frankie: My impression of Newport was that it would be far more eccentric. I think it used to be, but now it seems like the queer community is a bit quiet – but I am new to Newport so I don’t really know what I am talking about. We are still unpacking our moving boxes, so I personally haven’t had much time to meet people. Johnny and I are open to meeting new friends.
Favorite local weekend adventure so far?
Frankie: I love finding the thrift stores and junk sales. I am a sculptor (https://franklinvagnone.org/ ), so I hope to get back to crafting some things once we get settled. I also liked taking our grandson around the neighborhoods and simply looking at what’s around us.
I also tend to look for new cafés, bookstores, shops, and museums as I map out any itinerary … just recently I happened upon an eclectic store called Nico Scout in South Kingstown, and Happy Day Bookstore in North Kingstown.
I'm currently working on a bucket list of local & regional places to visit (Block Island, Martha’s Vineyard, etc.) as well as kid-friendly experiences for the two-year-old in our household – he really likes the Save The Bay Exploration Center & Aquarium, so maybe a visit to the Roger Williams Park Zoo in the near future?
A special bar or restaurant that you've really liked in some way?
Johnny - Empire Tea & Coffee on Broadway has become almost a daily staple for me … as the baristas are really nice, and I love their bolo breakfast sandwiches .. Franklin Spa is also a great breakfast spot .. and Grace Trofa who owns a store on Franklin Street, recommended we try Giusto, which we enjoyed a lot.
I’ve heard Rhode Island is known for “Johnny Cakes”, so I am curious where in Newport one can find thoses….
Frankie - Nothing just yet – but I am open to new things!
LGBTQ+ community can feel a little hidden here at first glance, which is why we do the work we do with NPT OUT! What kinds of events or experiences that bring together LGBTQ+ community would you like to see here?
Frankie - My hope is that Newport Restoration Foundation can create gathering events for the queer community that tie in the fabulousness of Doris Duke’s Rough Point with the creative spark of Newport Queers.
Johnny - As a person who loves variety & novelty, I think any kind of new activity could potentially provide an opportunity for an official or unofficial NPT OUT group meetup experience...
So in the warmer months, I could see NPT OUT experiences like biking or sailing around Aquidneck Island, LGBTQ+ history walking tours,… trips to investigate nearby coastal areas and beaches – or even pairing with local businesses and nonprofits to learn more about what they do to benefit the community. For instance, there’s an Italian Espresso Bar in Newport called Mozz that has pasta-making classes… Would love to join a group to learn that…
Also, NPT OUT could consider more regional LGBTQ+ 🏳️🌈 experiences like trips to Providence, Provincetown and other LGBTQ+ 🏳️🌈 sites in New England.
NPTOUT: Thanks for sharing with us, Frankie and Johnny, and welcome to Newport! We’re looking forward to more with you.
MORE ON THE NEW TO TOWN WITH NPTOUT SERIES: We strive to tell and celebrate stories from all walks of life here in Newport, RI. Who would you like to hear from next? Please email us your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.