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.