Gay cruise stirs storm over Cayman Islands Government cites fear of improper behavior

January 09, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

It was billed as a typical Caribbean cruise for the moderately well-to-do: dancing in the discotheque, lounging by the pool, volleyball games on deck, and stops for shopping and scuba diving at four tropical ports.

The only difference was that most of the 900 scheduled passengers on the cruise chartered by a West Hollywood, Calif., travel agency are gay men.

And the government of one destination, Grand Cayman, doesn't want them spending seven daytime hours on its streets and coral sand beaches.

Citing fears that gay visitors would fail to "uphold the standards of appropriate behavior," the Cayman Islands' minister of tourism denied Norwegian Cruise Line's request to land Feb. 1.

"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 our visitors," Tourism Minister Thomas C. Jefferson wrote to the cruise line. "So we regrettably cannot offer our hospitality."

The letter has sparked outrage among gay and civil rights groups in the United States, who along with cruise line officials deny that passengers on gay-chartered cruises have acted particularly rowdy or improper and view this denial as an affront to a growing and affluent tourist sector.

"We thought this kind of homophobic reaction was a thing of the TC past," said Richard Campbell of Atlantis Events, which chartered the cruise ship Leeward to embark Jan. 30 from Miami for seven days.

Officials of the island nation, a former British colony of three coral outcroppings whose 30,000 residents depend on tourism for their livelihood, would not comment on the tourism minister's letter.

Lori Tucker, a Dallas-based public relations executive whose company represents the Cayman government in the United States, said the country has had problems with gay tourists in the past. She would not elaborate but offered a possible basis for the government's decision.

"This is an ultraconservative, deeply religious country," she said. "The bars close at midnight. There are no bathing suits past the pool."

But Campbell said his customers merely planned to go shopping or diving and would have easily blended in with the 2,500 other cruise ship passengers scheduled to dock that day.

"These are people who spend $1,000 to $2,000 to get there," he said. "They tend to be a well-heeled group. It's not a bunch of people running around in togas for a week."

Pub Date: 1/09/98

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