Gay and lesbian cruise ship passengers were met by more than 100 protesters 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!"
Cruise organizers said former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell, who promoted the voyage, was aboard the Norwegian Cruise Line ship Norwegian Dawn. But she wasn't seen among those who disembarked. Gregg Kaminsky, 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 most Bahamians had been friendly and welcoming. "We are not really here to make a statement," he said. Kaminsky said he was disappointed by the protest but added that people have a right to their opinions.
As the first passengers stepped out, shouting protesters pressed to within a few feet 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. Added Pastor Vaughan Miller: "We don't care how much money they bring. The Bahamas is off-limits." Organizers said the demonstration was intended to be peaceful, and there were no arrests. Gay and lesbian vacationers have faced icy receptions in the Caribbean before. A number of islands have laws banning gay 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 another antigay rally the previous 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 on Sunday and made stops in Florida.
Some passers-by said they disagreed with protesters. "I don't have a problem with gay people coming to the Bahamas," resident DeAndre Rahming said. But 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, 4.
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.