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Questions persist about gay cruise arrests

Some call for ships to bypass anti-gay ports

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Roseau, Saint George, Dominica, Atlantis Cruise, gay news, gay politics dc

Roseau, Saint George Dominica, the island nation where two gay cruise passengers were arrested for indecent exposure. (Photo by Gail F. via Flickr)

After authorities in Dominica arrested two gay men aboard an Atlantis cruise, some are questioning why a gay cruise would visit a nation that criminalizes gay sex.

Just days into the Atlantis-sponsored Caribbean cruise, Palm Springs couple Dennis Mayer and John Hart were called to guest relations on the Celebrity ship Summit and arrested for allegedly having sex on their balcony, according to several accounts, bringing to an abrupt end their vacation, and marking the beginning of a legal drama.

Representatives from Atlantis Events did not respond to several attempts by the Blade to discuss the incident, however the company’s president, Rich Campbell, posted a statement addressing the controversy on the Atlantis Events Facebook page on March 22.

“Please understand that the complaint and subsequent arrests had nothing to do with the guests’ sexual orientation, nor was any ‘anti-gay’ law invoked,” the statement said, despite the fact that a charge of “buggery” was dropped by authorities and reduced to indecent exposure. “These guests were engaged in behavior that is inappropriate in any port of call, or major city for that matter.”

But in interviews after returning home, both Mayer and Hart said they were not having sex but were “partially clothed” on their balcony. They pleaded guilty to indecent exposure and paid a $900 fine. They claimed that their treatment in Dominica was frightening.

“I know what it really does feel like now to be hated, hated by a country,” Mayer told Palm Springs NBC affiliate, KMIR. He said hundreds of locals lined up to taunt the couple as they were “paraded” through town, while the local media “fanned the flames” of gay hatred. “They did try to make an example out of us.”

“It was scary,” Hart said.

Mayer told the AP that a law enforcement officer told the couple after a four-hour interrogation that they were “being arrested for being gay,” and that the officer threatened to take them to a medical facility to have them examined for proof of homosexual behavior.

Campbell’s Facebook post asserts that both Celebrity Cruises and Atlantis Events left representatives with Mayer and Hart for the remainder of their ordeal, and that their safety was monitored by the U.S. Embassy in Barbados.

“If they were having sex or were naked on the balcony on the ship in the middle of the port, they’re subject to the laws of Dominica, just as they would be if they were in the port of Fort Lauderdale,” Charlie Rounds, managing director of Brand g Vacations, which plans trips to gay-friendly destinations for smaller groups, told the Blade. “If that is what happened it certainly seems reasonable that the local authorities would stop the behavior.”

However, Rounds — a veteran of the gay travel industry and former co-owner of RSVP Vacations — said he’s never heard of anyone getting arrested for being seen naked on the balcony of a cruise ship before.

“Most ships are so big — and there’s nothing around them in the ports — that the possibility of actually seeing somebody even if they were naked, is relatively small globally,” Rounds told the Blade. “There are just not that many ports … where somebody could actually see you. The sides of the ship are higher than the actual buildings.”

Rounds was part of the Atlantis Events team from 2007-2010 as president of RSVP Vacations after Campbell’s company purchased RSVP, and says he believes Campbell’s claim that the couples’ sexual orientation was likely not a factor.

“I have been to Dominica. In my mind, I would say that this has very little to do with their being gay,” Rounds said, adding that a heterosexual couple would likely have been arrested as well in Dominica. “Rich Campbell never lied to these people… when they signed up for the cruise, they knew where they were going.”

In the aftermath of the arrests, some have questioned why gay-oriented travel companies plan trips to countries with anti-gay laws on the books.

“Many countries and municipalities that gay men visit and live in have antiquated laws on their books,” Campbell told Fox News. “These statutes don’t pose a concern to us in planning a tourist visit.”

Although Brand g Vacations says they focus on gay-friendly destinations, Rounds noted that the determination is difficult to make, as defining “anti-gay” and “gay-friendly” can be subjective.

“For example, Ecuador has full equality in its constitution for gay and lesbian people, but in the past six months, it’s been revealed there’s been an attempted reprogramming of lesbians in Ecuador,” Rounds said.

Atlantis plans a Baltic cruise in late July that includes a stop in St. Petersburg, Russia — a city that just outlawed “gay propaganda,” and expressions of gay identity.

RSVP’s president told the Blade that he has no plans to reroute a June Mediterranean cruise with a planned stop in Casablanca, Morocco, where sodomy is criminalized.

“It’s really not that simple at this point, there are a lot more factors to it than just simply being able to say ‘we want to go somewhere else,’” Jeff Gundvaldson, president of RSVP Vacations said, noting that specific requirements for visiting a non-European Union port complicate the matter. “We have to consider the charter of the ship.”

“Certainly we have our guests’ security foremost,” Gundvaldson said. He added that RSVP will do its due diligence of “checking out” the port in advance, as is standard practice.

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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court to consider challenge to Tenn. law challenging gender-affirming case for minors

Volunteer State lawmakers approved ban in 2023

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U.S. Supreme Court (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday agreed to consider a challenge to a Tennessee law that bans health care providers from offering gender-affirming care to transgender minors.

Tennessee lawmakers approved the law in 2023.

A federal judge in Nashville issued a temporary injunction against portions of the statute before it was to have taken effect on July 1, 2023. The 6th U.S. U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last September rejected a request to block the law the Justice Department has also challenged.

“The future of countless transgender youth in this and future generations rests on this court adhering to the facts, the Constitution, and its own modern precedent,” said Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBTQ and HIV Project, on Monday in a press release. “These bans represent a dangerous and discriminatory affront to the well-being of transgender youth across the country and their constitutional right to equal protection under the law. They are the result of an openly political effort to wage war on a marginalized group and our most fundamental freedoms.” 

“We want transgender people and their families across the country to know we will spare nothing in our defense of you, your loved ones, and your right to decide whether to get this medical care,” added Strangio.

The Associated Press reported Tennessee is among the more than two dozen states that have enacted laws that either restrict or ban gender-affirming care for trans minors.

The ACLU notes the Supreme Court “is not expected to hear arguments” in the case until the fall.

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The White House

EXCLUSIVE: Jill Biden to host White House Pride celebration

Event to take place on June 26

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First lady Jill Biden (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

First lady Jill Biden will host the White House Pride Month celebration on June 26, according to a press release previewed by the Washington Blade.

The party on the South Lawn will also feature a performance by singer, songwriter, actress, and record producer Deborah Cox and musical selections by DJ Trifle.

This year’s event comes on Equality Day this year, which honors the anniversaries of three landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that expanded rights and protections for LGBTQ Americans: Lawrence v. Texas (2003), which struck down sodomy laws, United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, and Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), which made marriage equality the law of the land.

The White House highlighted some of the “historic action” taken by President Joe Biden to “advance LGBTQ+ equality for the community,” including:

  • Signing into law the landmark Respect for Marriage Act which protects the rights of same-sex and interracial couples;
  • Appointing a historic number of LGBTQI+ and transgender appointees, including the first transgender American to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate;
  • Directing all federal agencies to strengthen civil rights protections on the basis of gender identity, resulting in agencies working to strengthen protections in housing, health care, education, employment, the criminal justice system, nutrition programs, and more;
  • Reversing the ban on open service by transgender members of the military;
  • Signing an executive order focused on LGBTQI+ children and families that directs agencies to address the dangerous and discredited practice of so-called “conversion therapy” and finalized rule-making that ends disparities that LGBTQI+ children and parents face in the child welfare and foster care system and protects against disparities in health care; and
  • President Biden continues to call on Congress to pass the Equality Act to enshrine civil rights protections for LGBTQI+ Americans in federal law.

Last year, the president and the first lady hosted the celebration, which was the largest Pride event ever held at the White House.

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National

65% of Black Americans support Black LGBTQ rights: survey

Results show 40% have LGBTQ family member

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(Logo courtesy of the NBJC)

The National Black Justice Coalition, a D.C.-based LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced on June 19 that it commissioned what it believes to be a first-of-its-kind national survey of Black people in the United States in which 65 percent said they consider themselves “supporters of Black LGBTQ+ people and rights,” with 57 percent of the supporters saying they were “churchgoers.”

In a press release describing the findings of the survey, NBJC said it commissioned the research firm HIT Strategies to conduct the survey with support from five other national LGBTQ organizations – the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Family Equality, and GLSEN.

“One of the first surveys of its kind, explicitly sampling Black people (1,300 participants) on Black LGBTQ+ people and issues – including an oversampling of Black LGBTQ+ participants to provide a more representative view of this subgroup – it investigates the sentiments, stories, perceptions, and priorities around Black values and progressive policies, to better understand how they impact Black views on Black LGBTQ+ people,” the press release says.

It says the survey found, among other things, that 73 percent of Gen Z respondents, who in 2024 are between the ages of 12 and 27, “agree that the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people.”

According to the press release, it also found that 40 percent of Black people in the survey reported having a family member who identifies as LGBTQ+ and 80 percent reported having “some proximity to gay, lesbian, bisexual, or queer people, but only 42 percent have some proximity to transgender or gender-expansive people.”

The survey includes these additional findings:

• 86% of Black people nationally report having a feeling of shared fate and connectivity with other Black people in the U.S., but this view doesn’t fully extend to the Black LGBTQ+ community. Around half — 51% — of Black people surveyed feel a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.

• 34% reported the belief that Black LGBTQ+ people “lead with their sexual orientation or gender identity.” Those participants were “significantly less likely to support the Black LGBTQ+ community and most likely to report not feeling a shared fate with Black LGBTQ+ people.”

• 92% of Black people in the survey reported “concern about youth suicide after being shown statistics about the heightened rate among Black LGBTQ+ youth.” Those expressing this concern included 83% of self-reported opponents of LGBTQ+ rights.

• “Black people’s support for LGBTQ+ rights can be sorted into three major groups: 29% Active Accomplices, 25% Passive Allies (high potential to be moved), 35% Opponents. Among Opponents, ‘competing priorities’ and ‘religious beliefs’ are the two most significant barriers to supporting Black LGBTQ+ people and issues.”

• 10% of the survey participants identified as LGBTQ. Among those who identified as LGBTQ, 38% identified as bisexual, 33% identified as lesbian or gay, 28% identified as non-binary or gender non-conforming, and 6% identified as transgender.

• Also, among those who identified as LGBTQ, 89% think the Black community should do more to support Black LGBTQ+ people, 69% think Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedoms than other Black people, 35% think non-Black LGBTQ+ people have fewer rights and freedom than other Black people, 54% “feel their vote has a lot of power,” 51% live in urban areas, and 75% rarely or never attend church.

Additional information about the survey from NBJC can be accessed here.

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