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Rainbow Overboard: Carnival’s Faux Pas

A controversy broke out in queer social media yesterday — and just as quickly died down again.

A travel agency called Al and Chuck Travel chartered a cruise on a Carnival ship with special performances by some of the popular drag queen stars of the Reality TV program Ru-Paul’s Drag Race. Six days before departure, ticket holders received a letter from Carnival Vice-President Vicky Rey informing them that passengers would not be permitted to dress in drag. Daily Kos was among the many popular outlets which began to report the story:

So, essentially, Carnival has decided they like collecting gay people’s money by marketing to the community. But, if the gays’ ‘behavior affects the comfort and enjoyment of other [heterosexual, bigoted] guests,’ they’re kicked off the ship.

One passenger is understandably confused by the vague directive on what is appropriate behavior that will not disturb ‘the comfort and enjoyment of other guests.’ The gay experience is heterosexual people can be very easily disturbed by relatively minor things, he asks: ‘I’m worried that holding my partner’s hand could get a rise out of some parents… Will I be kicked off for that? What about a romantic kiss at dinner? This is awful!’

A fabulous drag queen

Are drag queens harmful to children? One Carnival employee thought so.

Perhaps worst of all, both of those perennial scapegoats — the need for security and the need to ‘think of the children’ — are cited in attempts to spin the situation.

I posted about this on my Facebook wall, where a former Carnival passenger cautioned against reacting hastily — she recalled a male partner of hers who routinely cross-dressed on goth subculture-themed cruises. Sure enough, by the end of the day Carnival caved to the intense social media pressure. Gay South Florida reports:

Carnival Cruise Lines of Miami has apologized to gay passengers on an upcoming drag cruise who were told Monday they would be kicked off the liner Glory if they cross-dressed in public.

“Anyone who wishes to dress in drag may do so,” writes Carnival President and CEO Gerry Cahill, adding that any passengers who are still unhappy and choose not to travel will be given full refunds.

A mutual acquaintance brought Rogi Riverstone, the creator of the above video, to my attention because we were both talking about this story. Rogi makes the point that we need to hold Al and Chuck Travel responsible for how quickly they seemed willing to capitulate. Hours before the apology of Carnival’s president, Al and Chuck Travel were boasting of their gay activist cred in public statements (they’re strong supporters of Human Rights Campaign, those honored guests in Obama’s veal pen) and insisting that a ban on drag is necessary for security reasons in a “post 9-11 world.”

Riverstone retorts:

This has nothing to do with 9-11, it’s a load of crap. Genderqueers did not blow up any buildings. You may be a gay man, but you are obviously a cisgendered gay man, and identify with hetero binaries. In other words, Mary, you pass as one of them and you’re going to enforce an outdated, unhealthy and arbitrary dress code that requires people with penises to wear pants and people with vulvas to wear non-pants.

This is sick, this is toxic … Shove your Chick-Fil-A Cruise!

In the wake of the Chick-Fil-A controversy, there were calls to not just boycott that hateful brand but to organize days of appreciation for other corporate brands which were perceived as supportive. What began as Starbucks Appreciation Day ballooned into a day of support for other major corporations like Macy’s. It’s possible — even probable — that most of the employees and management of Carnival Cruise Lines are open-minded, queer-loving people but this incident reminds us that brand support is fragile. When corporations answer to their shareholders first and their ethics second, support for equality will only last as long as it is perceived to be profitable. After all, let’s not forget the example of Walter Mack and Pepsi.

The other lesson one might take away from this incident is a reminder that a segment of the LGBT population is still all too happy to throw the rest of the rainbow overboard to protect themselves.

Photo by Phillip Pessar under a Creative Commons license

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and