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2004-07-17 11:57:04

Gay Cruise Passengers Met With Angry Protest in Bahamas

Gay and lesbian cruise ship passengers met more than 100 protesters holding signs and leading anti-gay chants as they stepped off their chartered ship Friday in the Bahamas.

The protesters, led by Christian pastors, gathered in a square in front of the cruise terminal and chanted: "Gay ways are not God's ways!" As a trickle of passengers stepped out, protesters held signs reading: If You're Openly Gay, Stay Away and We Will Not Bow to the Gay Agenda!

Former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell, a cruise promoter, was aboard the Norwegian Dawn but wasn't among those who disembarked.

Gregg Kominsky, a founder of cruise organizer R Family Vacations, said the passengers - 1,150 adults and 450 children - had come to have fun and that on previous trips he found most Bahamians friendly and welcoming.

"We are not really here to make a statement," he said.

Kominsky said he was disappointed by the protest but people have a right to their opinions.

As the first passengers stepped out, shouting protesters pressed to within a metre of them. Police stepped in to move demonstrators back.

"We will never accept your lifestyle," said Pastor William Hanchell, who stood on a stage and spoke.

"We don't care how much money they bring. The Bahamas is off-limits," said another, Pastor Vaughan Miller.

Organizers said the demonstration was intended to be peaceful and there were no arrests.

Homosexuals have faced icy receptions in the Caribbean before. A number of islands have laws banning homosexual sex and many countries remain socially conservative.

In 1998, a protest was held in the Bahamas when a ship arrived with lesbian passengers. That same year, the Cayman Islands turned away a gay cruise following protests.

Friday's demonstration was held by a group calling itself Save the Bahamas, which led an earlier anti-cruise rally with several hundred people Sunday.

The U.S. Embassy issued a statement Thursday saying the mostly American passengers deserved the right to visit in peace.

While scores of passengers disembarked, many stayed on the ship.

O'Donnell's partner, Kelli O'Donnell, got off and greeted members of the Bahamas' Rainbow Alliance, a gay and lesbian group. She helped found R Family Vacations, which promoted the seven-day cruise that began in New York City on Sunday and also made stops in Florida.

Passengers Stacey and Jessie Paris, of New Jersey, said they didn't feel welcome on their first trip to the Bahamas.

"It's very, very sad," Stacey Paris said.

She came with her biological daughter, 15-month-old Torin, and adopted son, Zion, four.

When reporters asked how they felt about the protest, Stacey turned to Zion, who was wearing a T-shirt that read Let My Parents Marry, and asked: "What do we call people like that?"

He replied: "Narrow-minded," and hugged Paris.

When the couple tried to walk through the protest, pushing a stroller, protesters told them to avoid the area and they did.

After a five-hour stop, the ship left for New York.

Source: Canadian Press

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