March 28, 2012 | by Phil Reese
Questions persist about gay cruise arrests
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.

 

12 Comments
  • Hi Phil:
    First, the premise of your argument is flawed because it does not accurately assess this event. The men engaged in inappropriate behavior and several guests (and more than one, mind you) on the cruise have come out publicly to explain what they saw and the response of the locals. Here’s one report for example, http://www.queerty.com/exclusive-very-very-obvious-that-atlantis-cruise-duo-in-dominica-were-having-sex-says-witness-20120327/
    So instead of our knee-jerk response over the cruise lines for taking persons to “retarded” countries like Dominica as you say, which really doesn’t show that we are critically analyzing the information before us, I rather think that we should assess the entire situation. So we consider the reports of the men and how it stands up to the reports from those on the ship, Atlantis, the government and the people of Dominica and vice versa. Then we proceed to have a more analytical discussion from thereon.
    I do think that these men did nothing to promote the acceptance of gays in Dominica, in the US and other parts of the world. In trying to look at this issue in the broader context, I rather think that it has helped solidify in the minds of some who already struggle with and/or are unwilling to accept gays that “I was right, gays are …..” (we already know that these thoughts are)
    Secondly, I do also think that when we talk about countries being anti-gay and/or homophobic it has to be more than having such laws on their books because Barbados for e.g. which is in the same Caribbean still have anti-gay laws but they are well known around the Caribbean as being and having an open gay community. The country is well known as the as the “gay island of the Caribbean (can’t recall the exact term it’s referred to). And using different measures one could define our US as still being homophobic. So I do suggest that we begin again, and be willing to look at things from a broader context.
    That’s my 2c.

    • Thank you for bringing a sane perspective to this discussion. As someone who lives in Dominica and has more than one gay friend here, I find that on the whole there is a live and let live attitude and that so long as your are discrete, you have no problem. Straight or gay, if you are visibly naked and having sex in public view, you are liable to be charged with just what these two passengers were charged with, indecent exposure and creating a public nuisance. That could happen anywhere in the world, even Palm Springs. Such behavior is an affront to the citizens of Dominica. It says that you do not care about our sensitivities or our laws. A wise traveler should always be aware of local customs and always consider themselves a goodwill ambassador for the US and for the LBGT community.

  • The cruise operator who said that passengers cannot be seen on their balconies is not correct at all. I know the port in Dominica and when one of those cruise ships arrives, you can see every detail, every person on those balconies. One morning I was in my hotel room and when ingot up and looked out the window, I was steering right on to one of these ships with a mass of humanity crowded onto the sides. I have seen a video where one of the guys arrested said plainly that he had come out onto the balcony naked. In other reports the same guy said that he was “partially clothed”. I believe the naked story.

  • CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON

    I HAD BEEN HEARING ABOUT THIS STORY. “Washington Blade’s” ARTICLE IS THE FIRST ONE I HAVE READ. ACCORDING TO RICH CAMPBELL, “These guests were engaged in behavior that is inappropriate in any port of call, or major city for that matter.” THIS IS A REASONABLE STATEMENT. REGARDLESS OF STAGE OF UNDRESS, PEOPLE DO NOT WANT TO SEE TWO MALES “MAKING OUT” ON THE DECK OR BALCONY OF A CRUISE SHIP. LAW ENFORCEMENT DID REDUCE THE CHARGE FROM “BUGGERY” TO INDECENT EXPOSURE. THE COUPLE SHOULD BE HAPPY ABOUT THAT; THERE IS NO FREE PASS.
    THANKS FOR YOUR TIME.
    CHRISTOPHER ALLEN HORTON

  • As a frequent traveler on gay cruises (and on non-gay cruise ships as well), I am disgusted with the response of this cruise company. I do not personally have any interest in exhibitionism, but also do not appreciate police or others peeing in my windows to add entertainment to their apparently dull lives. I don’t know what actually happened in this case, but the cruise company responses to this incident, and at least one reader comment, seem to blame the victim and presume their “guilt” because they are gay men. This is not very smart for a company that relies on gays paying higher than standard prices to be part of a gay cruise experience. Gays do not pay to go on cruises to “enlighten” any particular country, to set some example of Puritanism, or to be forced to revert to the closet. I for one will not take a cruise in the future that includes Dominica. The fact that heterosexuals have not been arrested for similar behavior on cruise ships in Dominica speaks volumes about whether the arrest in Dominica was targeted specifically toward gays. The fact that the initial charges included “buggery” tells anyone of moderate intelligence that the Dominica authorities intended to target gays. Have people learned nothing from the experience in our own country of “sodomy” laws being used for decades only to target gay men, despite the theoretical application of such laws in many states to both gays and non-gays?

  • Hey, for starters: have you ever tried getting naked in/around our “beloved” Rehoboth Beach? Let alone having sex in the open?
    Poor little Dominica is simply blindly copying the homophobic and anti-sex policies of the big country overshading the whole of the Caribbean – the U.S. of A.
    There is a chasm in personal freedom between most of today’s Europe and the United States (or its small satellites). I’m sorry for those who don’t realize it.
    Regards.

  • Please stop demonizing my country, these men were openly having sex in plain view of the public(Children included). Gay or Straight that would get you arrested anywhere in the world.

    http://www.queerty.com/update-incriminating-photo-of-couple-arrested-on-gay-cruise-surfaces-20120330/

    • You guys should be quoting and reading the fiery editorial at http://www.SFGN.com, which called for a national boycott last week and got written up on queerty, they seem to be a little bit ahead of you on this, and they are right, we should not give gay money to homophobic countries.

  • If the men weren’t engaging in inappropriate activity then there would not have been a problem. Simple as that. Not liking inappropriate behavior is not homophobia.

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