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2004-05-20 08:34:21

Govt Has No Problem With Gay Cruise

The government of The Bahamas will not discriminate against a gay cruise scheduled to call on ports in Nassau and Freeport at month's end.

This became evident yesterday when the Ministry of Tourism issued a statement giving its position on the issue which remains an unsettling topic of public discussion.

The latest round of hysteria regarding the issue of gay travel to The Bahamas comes after statements from two groups with vested interest in the issue, whose non-yielding views have been pitted against each other with every new dimension of the issue. On the one hand, the Bahamas Christian Council (BCC) has sustained its hard-line approach on the issue, proclaiming in a press statement Sunday that "The Bahamas will not be a welcome port of call for this or any other gay cruise." The BCC, which is a loose interfaith assembly of many of the nation's churches, has asserted its position in all sections of the media, and has therefore become synonymous with the anti-gay sentiment.

On the other hand the gay and lesbian advocacy group, Rainbow Alliance of The Bahamas, has championed the cause of homosexuals in The Bahamas, and in so doing has become, at least on this issue, the arch-enemy of the BCC. Holding to form and refusing to be out-spoken by the Council, the Alliance released a statement of its own on Monday. It said "progressive and forward-thinking" Bahamians welcome the cruise to The Bahamas and that the visitors on the gay cruise would have positive experiences while travelling within its shores. The Rainbow Alliance accused the BCC of spreading a contradictory message, claiming that it welcomed all visitors in one of its proclamations and excluded people openly expressing their love and affection in another.

If the Ministry of Tourism is a referee between the two warring factions on this very emotive issue, it now appears that position put forth by Rainbow will prevail. However, while the BCC, with its huge influence within the halls of Parliament, may have lost this battle, it will certainly continue to fight its war on homosexuals.

In its statement, the Ministry points out that laws banning homosexuality in The Bahamas were repealed in 1991. It goes on to say that "all persons," whether residing within or visiting the islands, were expected to respect these laws, which included the right to "freely and peacefully express opinions."

The "Gay Days Cruise" on board Carnival Cruise Line's Fantasy is set to leave Port Canaveral, Florida, on Sunday May 30. The cruise is being sponsored by Gay Days Incorporated and is planned to coincide with Gay Day celebrations in Orlando, Florida. Similar cruises to other Caribbean destinations are also planned for the same period.

In February 1998, the BCC, under the leadership of then President Rev. Harcourt Pinder, took to the streets in protest of a gay cruise which was to call on the Berry Islands. The efforts of the council did not succeed in preventing the 900 visitors from coming to these shores, but what it did succeed in doing, was to create a level of mass hysteria, manifested in the streets, newspapers and on the airwaves. So alarming was the atmosphere in this country during those weeks, that then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham made an impassioned address to all sections of the media.

Criticising the Council for creating the hysteria, Mr Ingraham expressed personal pain over its position and the position in which it placed The Bahamas. "I have been chilled by the vehemence of the expressions against gay persons made by some in our newspapers and over our radio talk shows. Admittedly there have also been expressions of reason and understanding on this matter on the editorial pages, but these have been largely lost in the sea of bitter, poorly reasoned diatribe." He told the country that ills like adultery were far more damaging to The Bahamas than gay tourists, and compared banning gay visitors to imprisoning Jews in death camps in Nazi Germany, corralling blacks in apartheid South Africa, and murdering Tutsis in Rwanda or Muslims in Bosnia.

Raymond Kongwa, The Nassau Guardian 

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