Tom Naples, 24, grew up in Warwick, majored in English at Cornell, and came back home. It was just a stopover, though. He was convinced he would end up in New York City, because he’s gay. “I didn’t feel like I could be part of the Warwick community if I was gay,” he said.
When he was a “questioning” student at Warwick Valley High School, Naples felt “unique and alone – and I’m a social person. I felt really isolated from my peers.” When he moved back home, he “didn’t feel like there were opportunities for a young adult.”
“To be clear, there’s nothing about Warwick I feel is unfriendly to gay people,” he said. It was just that there were no gay people. Or so it seemed.
“Warwick is a great place to live,” Naples thought. “Why are there no gay people here?”
He wasn’t alone in asking that question. “It feels like the kind of place that gay people would move to because it’s close to the city,” said Michael Moroney, 61, who moved here five years ago. He and his partner of 33 years, Albert de Fressine (who describes himself as a bon vivant), got married in Warwick the weekend of Hurricane Irene. “The Village is so Victorian. I was surprised that there was not some kind of organization,” said Moroney.
After talking to Moroney and de Fressine, Naples went straight home and made a Facebook page for the Warwick Valley LGBT Center. He created an invitation, “just invited all my friends, and I made it sound very inclusive.” He bought a bunch of rainbow colored balloons, rounded up chairs and some tables and paper table cloths. On March 1, about 25 people, from high schoolers to grayheads to Mayor Michael Newhard, trickled into the CrossFit Warwick gym for a Friday night potluck. “It’s about time,” said one guest after the next.
Henry Diaz, 39, was taking photos. Diaz’ Native American clan, the Taino, value gays as “two spirited” people who embody both the male and female spirit. But Diaz, who moved to Greenwood Lake after 9/11 to be closer to nature, finds it “hard to live in Greenwood Lake and not be judged by what I wear and who I am.” Dating is a nightmare. “Even online, it’s very hard,” he said. “I have to travel at least an hour for a date. I always do the traveling. I find myself traveling to Beacon, Rockland, Ramsey, New Paltz, the city. You really don’t meet anyone here.”
Naples hopes “to build a network of friendship and support. I would like there to be a central space where someone like me 10 years ago could say “Hi. I need to talk about this.’” Milford, Pennsylvania is known as “a kind of gay mecca,” Naples said. “That’s in Pennsylvania. If Pennsylvania can be a gay friendly place, so can New York.”
Naples’ own attitude toward his hometown has begun to shift. In December, he started working at a marketing agency in Port Jervis. “I’m living at home and I feel like I’m settling here. I’m only feeling that way recently.”
“Let’s have a parade!” Naples suggested.
“Why not?” said Mayor Newhard, without a moment’s hesitation.