Rex LeBeau recently had a scary medical experience. They started to lose parts of their vision, and they didn’t know why. LeBeau is nonbinary, and their pronouns are they/them. They usually leave Aquidneck Island to receive medical care, but their primary care doctor told them to go straight to the emergency room.

The doctors there figured out it was an ocular migraine, and the visit turned out okay. But what LeBeau still remembers is how they didn’t want to go to the emergency room because they feared how they might be treated.

Anyone could have a medical crisis, anywhere, anytime,” LeBeau said. “And if they have to think about where they're going to go to get help, that often could delay getting care, or folks might not get care at all.”

Both Newport Mental Health and the Women’s Resource Center are now accredited by Blue Cross & Blue Shield as “LGBTQ safe zones.” It’s a badge held by about 40 other providers across Rhode Island, and it’s meant to indicate that they’ve trained their staff and adjusted procedures to better serve LGBTQ+ clients.

“Knowing that when you see the safe zone logo on the window, you don't have to worry about whether you'll receive culturally competent and affirming care — can make a world of difference for those seeking the care,” said Sarah Fleury, the director of behavioral health at Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island, which manages the safe zone program.

Leaders at the recently accredited Newport organizations said they also took the “safe zone” title as a challenge to continue improving how their spaces and services are experienced by the LGBTQ+ community. 

“So we're very, very excited that we're able to embrace our community in a better way through training and changing our environment,” said Dayna Gladstein, the chief operating officer at Newport Mental Health. “But there's more work to be done. And so we're taking another sort of a challenge on trying to build our workforce that's more reflective of the communities that we serve.”

LeBeau, who works as an advocate for LGBTQ+ health equity in Newport, said the two new safe zones are a promising first step for Aquidneck Island. But they noted “the big gap right now is medical health care.”

Many transgender and nonbinary people in Newport still travel as far as West Warwick or Woonsocket to access gender-affirming primary care, they said. For those without access to their own vehicle, the trip can be arduous and involve taking multiple public buses. So LeBeau hopes these two Newport organizations becoming so-called “safe zones” can inspire other local providers to step up and better support LGBTQ+ patients.

“I'm absolutely hopeful that this is the first of many,” they said. “And I think once one organization starts to do this, that is a catalyst for others to do so as well.”


Antonia Ayres-Brown is the Newport Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio and a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at antonia@thepublicsradio.org