March 20, 2018 at 6:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Bermuda activists rebuke calls to boycott island

A law that rescinds marriage rights for same-sex couples in Bermuda has prompted calls to boycott the British island territory’s tourism industry. (Photo courtesy of Rebecca Kelliher)

LGBT activists in Bermuda have rebuked calls to boycott the British island territory’s tourism industry over a law that rescinds marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Linda Mienzer, a long-time LGBT rights activist in Bermuda, on Tuesday described the calls to the Washington Blade during a telephone interview as “misfounded.” Shari-Lynn Pringle, who is also an activist in the British island territory, agreed.

“People rely on tourism as their bread and butter and the LGBTQ community needs everyone’s support,” she told the Blade on Monday.

The Bermuda Parliament late last year approved the Domestic Partnership Act — which allows same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships as opposed to get married — late last year. Governor John Rankin on Feb. 7 signed the measure into law in spite of opposition from local activists and their supporters around the world.

Same-sex couples have been able to marry in Bermuda since Charles-Etta Simmons, a judge on the Bermuda Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the issue in May 2017. Bermuda is the first government in the world outside the U.S. to rescind marriage rights to gays and lesbians.

Bermuda will continue to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples that took place before the law is scheduled to go into effect on June 1.

The Bermuda Supreme Court is expected to consider a challenge to it in May. A fund has been launched to support this effort.

Ellen DeGeneres on March 7 on her Twitter page noted Bermuda “just banned marriage equality” and “I guess I’m canceling my trip. Anyone else?” Suze Orman and GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis are among those who also back calls to boycott the British island territory.

Jamison Firestone, an American human rights lawyer, has urged Carnival Corporation and its subsidiaries to stop sailing its ships under the Bermudian flag and its laws. Peter Tatchell, a prominent British LGBT rights activist who is director of the Peter Tatchell Foundation, supports Firestone’s call.

“Not only is Carnival colluding with a homophobic government by continuing to register its 24 ships in Bermuda, it means that same-sex couples can no longer marry on board, even in international waters,” said Tatchell in a statement he released on March 5. “This is tantamount to direct anti-LGBT+ discrimination.”

OutRight Action International Executive Director Jessica Stern in an email to her organization’s supporters described the law that Rankin signed as “a step backwards for equality.” Stern also said calls to boycott Bermuda are “a misguided reaction” that is “spearheaded mainly by people in the U.S. and Europe who believe that a tourism boycott will show the Bermudian government that repealing same-sex marriage was a mistake.”

“This campaign stands to hurt rather than help the LGBTIQ community in Bermuda,” she wrote. “This boycott, in line with almost all boycotts that do not start locally, is uninformed and ill-advised. It could increase discrimination against local LGBTIQ people, who may very well be used as scapegoats for any negative impact on tourism and the economy. Not to mention the consequences for LGBTIQ people who themselves work in the tourism industry.”

Mienzer agreed.

“Clearly the persons who have called for it haven’t even bothered to reach out to us on the ground who have to live here every single day,” she told the Blade.

OUTBermuda, a Bermudan LGBT advocacy group, in a statement the Bermuda Tourism Authority provided to the Blade on Monday notes same-sex couples have adoption and immigration rights in the territory. OutBermuda also notes Bermuda’s nondiscrimination law includes sexual orientation.

“We are encouraged by expressions of support both locally and internationally for Bermuda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people, and extend our tremendous gratitude on behalf of the community here,” reads the statement. “Marriage equality is a goal, but it is not the only goal. We encourage our allies to reach out as we continue to promote and support the well-being, health, dignity, security, safety and protection of the LGBTQ community in Bermuda.”

Nearly 700,000 people visited Bermuda in 2017

The Bermuda Tourism Authority on its website notes 692,947 people visited Bermuda in 2017 and spent $431 million while they were in the British island territory. Statistics from the Bermuda Tourism Authority also indicate 84 percent of the 418,049 people who arrived by cruise ship and 74 percent of the 269,576 people who arrived by air last year were from the U.S.

The Bermuda Tourism Authority urged lawmakers to oppose the Domestic Partnership Act, noting, among other things, North Carolina’s economy lost $3.76 billion after then-Gov. Pat McCrory in 2016 signed House Bill 2 that banned transgender people from using public bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and prohibited municipalities from enacting LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination measures. Roger Frizzell, a spokesperson for Carnival Corporation, on Monday noted to the Blade his company opposes the Domestic Partnership Act.

“Carnival Corporation believes that same-sex marriage should be legalized in Bermuda,” he said. “We are currently working with local interest groups in Bermuda and elsewhere to explore options in relation to this.”

Olivia Cruises, which caters to lesbians, has a cruise that is scheduled to visit Bermuda in 2019. Atlantis Events, which caters to gay men, does not have any scheduled cruises to the British island territory.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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