LGBT community apparently no longer needs to have special, secret parties on cruises. We’re just part of the crowd


David Webb discovered, during his recent Mediterranean cruise, that LGBT parties on cruise ships have come out of the closet. Webb enjoys the view above Athens, left, and from the ship above.

David Webb  |  The Rare Reporter

It was bound to happen eventually: “Friends of Dorothy” meetings, once posted on daily cruise ship programs as mysterious, informal get-togethers, now tend to be noted for what they really are — LGBT mixers.

That came to my attention during my trip on the Carnival Vista, July 9-19, cruising from Barcelona to Athens with port stops in France, Italy, Turkey and Greece along the way. One of three straight women with whom I traveled asked me before we flew to Spain what “Friend of Dorothy,” a phrase she had noticed so often on cruise ship programs, actually means.

Cruise-LagoonI explained that cruise ships began using the term decades ago, when homosexuality was still illegal in many places, to signify to passengers who wanted to meet other gay men or lesbians that they could do so at a designated spot, usually one of the smaller ship bars.

“Well, who is Dorothy?” my friend persisted.

I had always assumed that Dorothy referred to the main character in the Wizard of Oz, a role played by Judy Garland, because Garland and her song from the movie, “Over the Rainbow,” became favorites of gay men. Turns out, I might have been wrong about that.

Some gay historians theorize that “Dorothy” actually refers to Dorothy Parker, the poet and scriptwriter who produced “A Star Is Born.” Parker was infamous for her glitzy social circle in the 1940s and 1950s that included many gay men and bisexuals.

The term “Friends of Dorothy” gained widespread use after World War II, and investigators for the U.S. military began to suspect that the mysterious organization might be a spy ring, according to the gay historians. Given that many gay activists prior to the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 belonged to the U.S. Communist Party, it’s easy to see how the organization became somewhat notorious, even though it really never officially existed.

Cruise-Wall“That’s interesting,” my friend said about the history of the term. She noted that she had always wondered what “Friends of Dorothy” meant but never before met anyone who could tell her. “I know a lot of lesbians,” she said.

She asked me what went on in the gatherings, and I said that I really didn’t know. I never went to one. I tended to turn wherever I partied into a gay bar, whether it be a country-and-western bar, jazz club, casino or whatever.
“Do you want to go?” I asked her. “It might be interesting to see what they do at them.”

My friend said that would be OK with her because she harbored no anti-gay bigotry. Four times divorced with three children, I knew she was unlikely to be confused about her sexual orientation, just curious — as I had become by that point, too.

But much to my surprise, when we got on the ship and perused the schedules I couldn’t find a reference to “Friends of Dorothy” anywhere. My last cruise, in September of last year on Holland America’s  Amsterdam going to Alaska out of Seattle, had included such a meeting on the schedule in one of the bars.

“That strange,” I said.

Then my friend asked me another curious question: “What is ‘LGBT’?”

So I looked at the schedule again, and I told her that the ship apparently had dropped the “Friends of Dorothy” ruse and was outright publicizing a gay and lesbian party.

Cruise-Ship“But what does LGBT mean?” she asked again.

I explained it referred to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. I was surprised she had never come across that term. I had seen plenty of LGBT people on all of my cruises, including one tall transgender woman wearing a huge platinum wig on the Alaskan cruise.

“Do you still want to go to the party? I said.

We agreed to check out the LGBT gathering. And that led to another shock. The bar turned out to be open to one of the ship’s hallways, and it included about a dozen barstools and a few tables with chairs. The bar was packed — but not with the people I expected to see.

Straight couples sat at all of the seats, enjoying pre-dinner cocktails. I didn’t bother asking any of them if they had come to attend the LGBT party. I knew they wouldn’t have a clue as to what I meant. It looks like the LGBT community has come so far that it no longer needs any sort of special meetings, no matter what the cruise ships might call them.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2016.