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Why the fatal Newport shooting led a LGBTQ group to reconsider events at the Friendly Sons

Why the fatal Newport shooting led a LGBTQ group to reconsider events at the Friendly Sons

NEWPORT — The timing of a fatal double-shooting on Feb. 14 that occurred the night after the Friendly Sons of Newport hosted its second LGBTQ event has caused the organizers to move away from holding events at the social club in the future.

During the early morning hours on Monday, Feb. 14, the Friendly Sons of Newport social club at 3 Farewell St. became the center of an ongoing homicide investigation after a double-shooting resulted in the death of Yordi Arevalo, 25, of Newport and the hospitalization of Aroldo M. Noel Paniaqua, 30, also of Newport. 

Two arrests in connection to the crime were made, and a warrant has been issued for a third suspect. The two arrested suspects — Shamik Steele, 30, of Tiverton and Xavier Perry, 28, of Providence — have been charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder, among other charges.

The incident came as a shock to the community, including Newport Bliss co-founder Michael Johnson, whose organization held an LGBTQ nightclub event at Friendly Sons the Saturday night before the shooting called “Return to Raffles.”

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The event, which was intended to be held every Saturday up to and throughout the summer, was to pay homage to Raffles, one of Newport’s last gay bars located at the space that now houses Friendly Sons. 

“It took me by surprise that something like that would happen and immediately my thoughts traveled back to Pulse nightclub and the old Puzzles nightclub and the things that happened there,” Johnson said. “My first thought immediately was, ‘Was this a targeted attack against our community?’ Or because the Sons had agreed to host a gay event, were they being targeted for some reason?”

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Puzzles Lounge in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and Pulse in Orlando, Florida, are both former gay bars that became the scenes of violent attacks against patrons, the latter of which is the second deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

While little information has surfaced over the motives or reasons behind the double-shooting at Friendly Sons, Johnson has since concluded it was likely an isolated incident unrelated to the LGBTQ event held the day before. 

Still, Newport Bliss announced on Facebook the day after the shooting it would be postponing future events “out of an abundance of caution and concern” for the safety of those who attend. Johnson confirmed he is looking to take the event to a different venue.

“Whenever you put on an event that’s LGBTQIA+ based, your thoughts always go to how this is going to mix with the regular crowd that goes into an establishment,” Johnson said. “You’re always ready for some pushback, especially from a social club like Friendly Sons. But at the end of the day, good business is good business.

“When good business turns into dangerous business, it’s time to reevaluate.”

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Newport Bliss has been running LGBTQ party nights in various Newport venues for the past nine years, but Friendly Sons was the first location that allowed the organization to take over multiple Saturday nights. Johnson made a deal with the club’s board members and the owner of the building to host a gathering and received reassurance the event patrons would be welcome at the social club.

Johnson said this was exciting news to him and other members of Newport’s LGBTQ community, which has lacked a gay bar or designated gathering space since Castaways Bar closed in 2006.

That weekend also was significant for Newport’s LGBTQ nightlife scene as NewportOUT co-founders Sean O’Connor and Daniel Cano-Restrepo launched their new collaborative event NPT HAUS at Bar and Board Bistro that day.

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O’Connor said there have not been multiple LGBTQ-centered nightlife events in Newport for at least two decades.

“There really hasn’t been two options that could be found under that ‘queer umbrella’ since Raffles and David’s were both operating at the same time, which I think was maybe the (1980s) or the ’90s,” O’Connor said. “It’s been a long time, so I think that was really interesting that literally the first time there was two options for the community, unfortunately the night after, this horrible event happened.”

After speaking with the police, O’Connor also does not think the double-shooting is related to the LGBTQ event from the night prior, but said he would still like to know the motives behind the crime.

“I think it’s very important as a community that we know,” O’Connor said. “What are the motives behind this horrible crime? Was there any homophobia? Was there xenophobia? Was there any elements to this crime that maybe we want to think about as a community? I don’t know.”