The dangers of (ocean) cruising

Posted on 29 Mar 2012 at 5:35pm

Sodomy charges against gay couple aboard Atlantis ship in Caribbean should serve as warning to all LGBT travelers, regardless of destination

MISSING THE BOAT  |  John Hart, left, and Dennis Jay Mayer, shown in booking photos provided by the Dominica Police Department, had to fly back to California because their cruise ship set sail without them after they were arrested on sodomy charges in Dominica. (Associated Press)

MISSING THE BOAT  | John Hart, left, and Dennis Jay Mayer, shown in booking photos provided by the Dominica Police Department, had to fly back to California because their cruise ship set sail without them after they were arrested on sodomy charges in Dominica. (Associated Press)

Webb-DavidWhen traveling out of the country it’s always a good idea to pack lightly for ease of luggage transport, dress down so as not to attract the attention of pickpockets and other criminals and oh, yes — don’t remove your clothing in public view of shocked, conservative natives.

A Palm Springs couple on an all-gay Caribbean cruise apparently forgot to follow one of these simple rules recently when their Celebrity Summit cruise ship chartered by Atlantis Events out of Puerto Rico docked in Roseau, Dominica.

People on the island reportedly observed the two men, who have been partners for 17 years, either naked or engaged in sexual activity on their balcony, depending on the report you read. Local police officers boarded the ship and arrested them on charges of sodomy, or “buggery,” which is still highly illegal on several Caribbean islands.

It was one of those outdoor relationships, the couple’s attorney explained to the court.

“They were struck by the beautiful mountains, the clean and clear fresh air and were having a few cocktails, and so threw caution to the wind,” she told an obviously un-amused judge, who called the men “rogues and vagabonds” and fined them $900 after they pleaded guilty to indecent exposure, according to the Associated Press.

The Los Angeles Times reported the fine amounted to $4,000, and that the men were held in jail overnight where they were taunted.

After the Dominican judge got through with them, the police drove the two men to the airport for their return to California.

Their cruise ship with 2,000 passengers on board had departed the previous evening without them for St. Barts.

An Atlantis official said he had talked to the two men, and they were in good spirits, but when the two men arrived at LAX International Airport, they were not so upbeat, according to a Los Angeles Times report. The men told the Times reporter they were simply sun bathing nude, not having sex.

The cruise vacation official also claimed the outcome would have been the same had it been a heterosexual couple.

Well, so much for that vacation, the couple might be saying now, although it could make for good cocktail conversation in certain social settings in the future.

After all, the men’s names and indiscretion have now been circulated around the globe, so it’s not like they can keep it a secret.

I can just hear it now around the family dinner table at Christmas, “And did you take a lot of pictures?”

The fact is, homosexuality is still condemned in much of the Caribbean, especially in Jamaica, Barbados and the Cayman Islands. Still, all-gay Caribbean cruises are popular and welcomed by tourist officials when the tourists respect local laws and social conventions.

On Grand Cayman Island, there are signs on the beach advising men and women to wear cover-ups over their bathing suits when walking from their hotels and condos to the beach. Just a little over a decade ago, a cruise ship carrying an all-gay passenger list was denied docking privileges in the Cayman Islands, but that apparently has not happened again.

In other parts of the world the attitudes regarding homosexuality vary, but for the most part LGBT travelers are welcomed if they observe the basic standards of conduct they would ordinarily practice in their cities of residence. I understand it is rare today to come across a hotel that would prohibit a male couple or a female couple from sharing a room, although I’m sure that can still happen in some places.

As it happens, I will be going on my first cruise this summer.

It will be an all-gay cruise Mediterranean from Barcelona, Spain, to Morocco and back. One thing is for sure, I’m not about to ruin my first cruise by doing something stupid like getting naked in public view of people I know frown on it, no matter how exhilarating and refreshing the breeze and scenery might be.

I’m sure the Moroccans would look a little askance at such behavior.

I’m not shocked by nudity, and I have been to nude beaches.

So if that is the scene on the cruise ship while at sea, I won’t be hiding in my stateroom. But at my age I think I will remain clothed, and I’m sure the other passengers and crew will appreciate that.

Still, I would hope other people who might be more daring would not risk getting arrested and ruining their vacation when the ship is anchored near a port.

And it might not be such a bad idea for cruise ship officials to warn the passengers what could happen if they do act out inappropriately.

David Webb is a veteran journalist who has covered LGBT issues for the mainstream and alternative media for three decades. Contact him at davidwaynewebb@yahoo.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 30, 2012.

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