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February 1998 Vol. 13, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Gay Divers: Grand Cayman says “Stay Home”

from the February, 1998 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

While many divers long to return to the Caribbean of old, the Grand Cayman government has taken a controversial step back in time by refusing the cruise ship Leeward permission to dock. Why? It was chartered by a group of 900 gay men.

In a letter sent to the Norwegian Cruise Line, Thomas Jefferson (yup, that’s his real name), the Cayman Islands’ Minister of Tourism, wrote: “Careful research and prior experience has led us to conclude that we cannot count on this group to uphold the standards of appropriate behavior expected of visitors to the Cayman Islands, so we regrettably cannot offer our hospitality.”

Rich Campbell, the California tour operator who arranged the charter, expected only a seven hour stop in Grand Cayman. “Sheer prejudice,” he said. “We’ve been all over the Caribbean and never had a response like this. We were prepared to spend a lot of money [estimated at $200,000] and the shopkeepers and scuba dive operators will be hurt by the cancellation.”

A government spokesperson, according to Reuters, said a gay cruise ship called 10 years ago and residents were shocked to see men holding hands and kissing. Church groups vowed never again to allow a gay cruise ship to stop in the Cayman Islands.

Lori Tucker, a Texas PR executive representing the Cayman government, said “This is an ultraconservative, deeply religious country. The bars close at midnight. There are no bathing suits past the pool.”

David Smith, of the Washington based Human Rights Campaign, responded to Jefferson by saying “Regardless of how you feel about gay issues, [your decision] would be regarded by most Americans as unfair and discriminatory.”

Campbell said that the act will have serious financial implications for the Caymans. “They have underestimated how many gay travelers there are. A lot of straight people will say, ‘Gee, if they’re that hostile to one group, how do they feel about another?’ It does not put a friendly spin on the Caymans.”

To one Cayman hotel owner, as Reuters reported, that didn’t seem to matter. “Anyone who says that the Cayman Islands does not welcome gay people,” he said, “is absolutely correct. Let them go to other places.”

“Anyone who says that
the Cayman Islands does
not welcome gay people is
absolutely correct. Let
them go to other places.”

So they headed off to Belize, where the Tourist Board said it “has no intention of deterring cruise lines from visiting Belize based solely on the sexual preference or orientation of the passengers.” Cozumel and Cancun were also on the itinerary. Grand Cayman officials said they would review their policy.

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