The Royal Cayman Islands Police detained a visiting homosexual man for kissing his partner on a dance floor last week.
The man, 23-year-old Aaron Chandler from Amherst, Massachusetts, was dancing at the Royal Palms last Wednesday night with his partner. His partner’s sister and brother-in-law also came along to the popular nightspot after they had all dined at Reef Grill.
While dancing, the two men kissed several times.
‘I do display affection when I’m with my boyfriend, publicly,’ said Mr. Chandler. ‘It’s never anything most people would consider obscene however; usually it’s in the form of holding hands or a quick kiss.’
After having kissed his partner on the dance floor, a man confronted the couple.
‘He asked us not to do that,’ Mr. Chandler said. ‘He said, ‘you shouldn’t be doing this here’.
Mr. Chandler and his partner continued dancing and after kissing again, the same man approached them and told them again that they shouldn’t be doing what they were doing.
About a half hour later – about 11pm – an unidentified woman approached the two men and asked Mr. Chandler to follow her to meet a friend. The friend turned out to be an off-duty police officer.
‘He told me he did not want me to show public displays of affection,’ Mr. Chandler said. ‘He said it was against the law for two people of the same sex.’
Mr. Chandler said he kissed his partner again, just before his party was going to leave the Royal Palms.
‘The officer grabbed my wrist and told me he was placing me under arrest.’
Mr. Chandler said a crowd of people – some tourists and some residents – followed the police officer while he was leading him away.
‘They were asking him why he was doing this and one asked how he could do this in a British territory.’
The officer called a superior, who arrived about five minutes later, Mr. Chandler said.
On the way to the George Town police station, Mr. Chandler said the superior officer told him the ‘law was stupid’ but that he had to enforce it.
Once at George Town Police Station, Mr. Chandler was made to wait to speak to an inspector. The inspector never came, but the original officer came back and gave him a stern talking to, telling him he didn’t care what he did in private, but that he could not kiss his partner in a public place. He attempted to make Mr. Chandler promise not to kiss his partner in public again and then released him.
RCIP spokesperson Deborah Denis said it was important to keep in mind Mr. Chandler was not actually placed under arrest, but she did confirm he had been detained.
Ms Denis said the man had been detained because people at the Royal Palms had witnessed the kissing between Mr. Chandler and his partner and had asked the off-duty police officer to do something about it. She said Mr. Chandler was detained only after he did not heed warnings to stop what he was doing.
‘Once the inspector at the station heard what had happened, he realised there probably weren’t any laws broken, so [Mr. Chandler] was released,’ Ms Denis said.
However, whether or not Mr. Chandler could have actually been charged is not immediately known, Ms Denis explained. Although homosexual acts between consenting adults were decriminalised in Cayman by a UK Order in Council in December, 2000, there are a couple of laws – one in the Penal Code and one in the Towns and Communities Law – that could possibly make the public display of affection by two people of the same sex a crime, especially if it causes distress or disturbance to other member of the public.
Ms Denis said the RCIP would seek a clarification on the point from the Legal Department, and that some sort of decision would probably have to be made public.
Mr. Chandler is a board member of the National Youth Advocacy Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based organisation that fights for the rights and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. He is also a former mayoral appointee of the Seattle Commission for Sexual Minorities and he still serves on a board for a LGBT youth centre in Seattle.
On his first trip to the Caribbean, Mr. Chandler was astounded to be told it was against the law for him to kiss his boyfriend in public.
‘If that is the case, I would love to see this law stricken,’ he said.
Mr. Chandler said his actions at the Royal Palms were what he normally does with his boyfriend. He explained why he did not stop kissing his partner when the first man asked him to stop: ‘I thought his request was ridiculous and bigoted, and I didn’t really believe I was in danger of being arrested,’ he said. ‘I won’t allow myself to be forced into the closet simply because I’m in a place where some people may be more homophobic than in other places.’
The incident upset Mr. Chandler enough that he wrote a letter to the Department of Tourism and also filed a complaint with the RCIP.
In his letter to the DoT, Mr. Chandler stated that several newspapers in the United States have agreed to run stories on the incident. The story has already been published on a U.S.-based blog.
Mr. Chandler has long believed gay men should be allowed to show affection in public. 2002, he signed an on-line petition that called for equality in public displays of affection. author of the petition, Federico Mendez of Texas, wrote in the text of the petition: “I would like to have the luxury of holding my boyfriend’s hand in public or if I decide to give him a kiss it shouldn’t be against the law to express any decent homosexual act in public without getting arrested. Straight people do it, so why can I not do it myself? Love is not limited to gender.”