The itinerary of a gay cruise to the Caribbean had to be changed to bypass Grand Cayman after the Cayman Islands refused to let the group’s ship dock, saying it didn’t expect “appropriate behavior” from the passengers.
Gay and civil rights groups criticized the snub against the group that chartered Norwegian Cruise Line’s 910-passenger Leeward.
“It’s absolutely appalling that the government of the Cayman Islands would send out a message basically that gay people are not welcome,” said David Smith, spokesman for Human Rights Coalition, the largest gay political organization in the United States. “It’s discrimination of the worst kind.”
“It makes me fearful about what kind of treatment the Cayman government gives to its own citizens,” said Howard Simon, Florida executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Atlantis Events Inc., based in West Hollywood, Calif., chartered the ship from Miami-based Norwegian for the one-week cruise, leaving Miami on Jan. 30, that would include a stop at the Cayman Islands. It had sold 850 tickets as of Tuesday.
But Thomas C. Jefferson, Cayman’s minister of tourism, commerce and transport, told Norwegian by letter on Dec. 8 that the government’s joint ministries had voted to reject the ship’s visit.
“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,” the letter said.
Rich Campbell, president of Atlantis Events, said the company asked the Cayman government to reconsider but never received a response.
“I find it astonishing that in 1998 you could elicit such a strong response to 900 well-heeled men who want to stop for seven hours of diving and shopping,” he said.
A recent Price Waterhouse survey found that cruise passengers spend an average of $124 each at every port call.
Special permission was required for docking on this voyage because the charter changed the ship’s regular itinerary. Normally, permission to dock is denied only when ports are full, said Norwegian spokeswoman Fran Sevcik. Norwegian normally docks a ship once a week in Grand Cayman and will continue to make that stop, she said.
“As a sovereign government, they have the right to deny us entrance,” Sevcik said.
Instead of the Cayman Islands, the gay cruise will visit Belize, in addition to the Mexican ports of Cancun and Cozumel.
Smith was surprised that the decision came from a tourist-dependent nation.
“A country that relies on tourism as its primary staple for its economy has much to lose,” he said. “History has shown that unfriendly areas of the world that actively discriminate against people bring international condemnation.”