Gay cruise ships slated

Although all-gay cruise organisers are still boycotting the Cayman Islands, several gay and lesbian groups have been visiting the country on cruise ships in recent times, and several more are booked to visit this year, beginning in March.

TravelOUT Inc of Dallas, Texas, owns and operates Gayribbean Cruises, which has brought gay and lesbian groups to Cayman in the past, and is planning a ‘Pirates of the Gayribbean’ Halloween cruise that will stop here in early November.

It is also planning to make Cayman a stop during an 11-day Thanksgiving cruise in late November and a ‘Winter Holiday’ cruise in December. Gayribbean’s cruises all sail out of Galveston, Texas.

The company stresses that its cruises are not all-gay, but rather gay group cruises. It says it tries to be the ‘best gay and lesbian group cruise company in the world.’

These will not be the first Gayribbean cruises to visit Cayman. Its Spring Fling cruise stopped here last April on the Rhapsody of the Seas.

On 2 March, the cruise company AquaFest, which also offers gay and lesbian group cruise events, will have its 2nd Annual Winter Break and Mardi Gras Cruise stop in Cayman. This cruise, also out of Galveston, is not a fully chartered gay and lesbian cruise either, but a group departure that offers private gay and lesbian events on board and ashore.

Gay and lesbian cruise ship groups often stop in Cayman, a source in the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism said.

‘And they have a wonderful time.’

American Gay and Lesbian travellers form a significant marketing block. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in 2003 that a marketing company there estimated that gays and lesbians spend $54.1 billion annually on travel, much more percentage-wise than mainstream adult travellers.

Other studies have shown that gays and lesbians are four times more likely to make an international trip than heterosexual Americans.

Group cruises are popular with gays and lesbians, but most organisers have steered clear of the Cayman Islands since a boycott was initiated in 1998 after the government here refused to let an all-gay cruise come to shore.

That incident, which was widely covered internationally, caused Britain to step in to force the Cayman Islands to allow gay cruisers here. In addition, the British Privy Council repealed all sodomy laws in the Overseas Territories in 2000, decriminalizing all private sexual acts between consenting adults.

Still, faced with domestic pressures, particularly from church groups, the Cayman Islands Government has never definitively clarified its position on gay and lesbian travellers. However, Minister of Tourism McKeeva Bush has said, ‘As a country, the Cayman Islands does not discriminate against any social group and receives all visitors to our shores.’

The boycott also affects stay-over tourism. Undersea Expeditions LLC, a scuba diving travel organization for gays and lesbians, advises clients to avoid the Cayman Islands.

With no direct response from the Department or Ministry of Tourism concerning gay and lesbian visitors, Undersea Expeditions has posted on its website ‘we can we can only conclude that the Cayman Islands does not welcome gay and lesbian dive groups, and we will continue to discourage gay and lesbian travelers from visiting the Cayman Islands.’

Many travel operators catering to gays and lesbians would like to see things change.

‘If they changed their policy, we would go to Grand Cayman tomorrow,’ said Rich Campbell of Atlantis Events, the president of an all-gay cruise company in Los Angeles, to the San Francisco Chronicle. ‘It’s conveniently located, (and) it has a lot to offer.’

With the Cayman Islands recovering from the effects of Hurricane Ivan and fighting for tourism dollars, merchants say they would welcome the business.

As for the gays and lesbians not upholding the standards of appropriate behaviour while in Cayman, the reason then-Minister of Tourism Thomas Jefferson gave for turning away the gay cruise in 1998, merchants in George Town say they do not really notice the gay and lesbian cruisers that do come here.

‘They don’t wear signs on themselves saying they’re gay,’ said Charles Adams of Artifacts Ltd on Harbour Drive. ‘Sometimes we’ll look at a couple and think they might be together, but we don’t ask them about it.’

Regardless, Adams said Artifacts in not anti-gay. ‘I have absolutely no problem either way,’ he said, speaking of mix of heterosexual and homosexual clientele.

Anick Pasqualli, acting manager of Hard Rock Café also said she does not even notice when gay or lesbian cruisers come into the restaurant. ‘It’s very busy in here. Anyway, we love all and serve all at the Hard Rock Cafe,’ she said, adding that she would welcome the business of gays and lesbians.

Sheri Kaplan, the director for the Center for Positive Connections, and HIV positive organization in South Florida, has joined several heterosexual cruises here, some of which have gay group elements.

The ‘Poz Cruise’ group has enjoyed its trips to Grand Cayman and has never had any problems with the anti-gay elements of the society. ‘They don’t even know we’re there,’ Kaplan said. ‘We don’t take up the whole boat. It’s none of their business anyway.’

Kaplan does have one complaint about their stops in Grand Cayman: ‘We don’t have enough time there,’ she said.

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