Transphobia Aboard Royal Caribbean Complains Transgender Vacations
Transgender Cruisers Aboard the Second Annual Transgender Vacations Caribbean Cruise Upset By Mistreatment, Complain To Royal Caribbean
by Heather Cassell
It was supposed to be fun on the high seas on the second annual Transgender Vacations’ Caribbean cruise aboard a Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. ship. That was until one guest was the recipient of homophobic epithets while ordering a drink.
Stephanie Land, founder of Transgender Vacations, based in Miami, Florida, filed a complaint that includes the guest’s complain with Royal Caribbean on November 30. The guest, Sherry Donegan, contacted the Transgender Law Center on November 21, they tell Girls That Roam.
It was the most recent homophobic incident aboard Royal Caribbean. The incident follows on the heels of a gay man going overboard on a Royal Caribbean cruise allegedly after his husband and he were the recipients of anti-gay epithets from crewmembers two days before Transgender Vacations set sail.
Sherry, a 44-year old bisexual transgender woman from Fresno, who was the target of the homophobic slur November 8, was excited about her first-ever cruise and one where she was with other transgender and ally travelers. The 18 transgender cruisers set sail aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas ship with Transgender Vacations on November 7 for a six-day cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas ship.
However, it wasn’t the cruise of their dreams, especially for Sherry, who on the second night aboard the ship was told by a bartender, “We don’t serve fags here,” she recalls the words spoken to her to the Girls That Roam.
“I said, ‘Oh, you don’t serve fags huh?’” she says humiliated. “I was very surprised, especially coming from a large company as Royal Caribbean.”
She immediately left the bar and reported the incident to guest services aboard the ship and to Stephanie. The two women were told that the incident would be looked into by a guest services representative. Two days later a member of guest services appeared at Sherry’s cabin door and informed her that the employee had been escorted off the ship in Cozumel, Mexico, where the ship called port, they both say.
Stephanie tells the Girls That Roam that she had been informed by a member of guest services that the employee had been fired.
Sherry wasn’t satisfied. She didn’t believe Royal Caribbean, which received a perfect 100 score on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2016 Corporate Equality Index for the second year in a row.
“I don’t think that they did anything,” says Sherry, who believes that Royal Caribbean is attempting to cover up crewmembers’ alleged homophobia alluding to the gay man who went overboard following being the recipient of alleged anti-gay slurs from cruise staff November 6. “I don’t believe a word that Royal Caribbean is saying.”
Royal Caribbean didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment by press time.
Bernardo Albaz, also appearing in the media as Bernardo Elbaz, went overboard two days before Transgender Vacations set sail aboard Royal Caribbean. The 35-year old gay man was on vacation aboard the Oasis of the Seas ship with his husband Eric Albaz, when they were the recipient of anti-gay epithets, according to media reports. The couple allegedly had a loud drunken argument in their cabin following an alleged incident where crewmembers called them “Lipstick” at a bar. Crewmembers were called to the couple’s cabin and then they chased an allegedly intoxicated Bernardo out onto the deck where he got onto the other side of the banister. Crewmembers reportedly attempted to rescue Bernardo after he fell over the 7th balcony before falling into the water about 92 miles from the Bahamas. Nearly a month later Bernardo’s body still hasn’t been found.
The Broward Sheriff’s Office determined the case was a suicide following a domestic disturbance, but Bernardo’s husband and family are vehemently denying Royal Caribbean’s assessment of the case along with their attorney Michael Winkleman.
It wasn’t just the incident at the bar, in her case, that bothers Sherry. She also noticed things like their group being seated at a table in the back of the dining room.
“They put us at a table way, way in back of the room like we are little kids not being seen,” says Sherry, who has traveled extensively for business and leisure, but hadn’t been treated as she was on Royal Caribbean.
Stephanie who wasn’t pleased either spoke with the maitre d’ who “apologized for the situation,” she says. The situation was corrected.
“She handled it real well,” says Sherry, about how Stephanie dealt with each issue throughout the cruise and after guests returned home.
However, Sherry simply isn’t satisfied with Royal Caribbean. She tells Girls That Roam that she contacted the Transgender Law Center and also submitted a letter of complaint about Royal Caribbean to Transgender Vacations. The least she wants is for a partial refund for her cruise due to being discriminated against and humiliated, she says.
The Transgender Law Center wouldn’t comment citing its confidentiality policy, wrote Jill Marcellus, senior communications manager at the transgender legal organization, responding to an email from the Girls That Roam.
“I just wish that people would stop discriminating against the LGBTQ community, especially trans,” says Sherry. “They need to be more educated and open about it.”
Stephanie agrees, which is why she filed the complaint with Royal Caribbean on Monday.
She cited only Sherry’s incident in her complaint as it was the most troubling, Stephanie, who is a travel agent, told Girls That Roam. In the complaint obtained by the Girls That Roam she tells Royal Caribbean about the damage the incident did to her young company, because she assures guests that travel partners are vetted for an experience that is “safe and welcoming on-board,” she writes.
“This promise was not kept and TGV Holidays has been damaged, irreparably, by this incident,” Stephanie concludes in the complaint requesting a representative of the cruise line to contact her to resolve the issue.
“I don’t want to see this happen to anyone else ever again,” says Stephanie, who simply wants Royal Caribbean to make proactive changes regarding LGBTQ travelers.
Royal Caribbean needs LGBTQ cultural sensitivity training says Stephanie and she won’t be using Royal Caribbean to host future Transgender Vacations trips. She’s working with Anteros Cruise, a new luxury LGBTQ cruise line, to charter small ships so guests won’t experience what Sherry and her other 17 guests saw during this trip.
The smaller ships will also create a more intimate and memorable vacation, she says.
It is Stephanie’s goal to “make sure that everyone will feel comfortable traveling and enjoy life,” she says.
Getting Past Hate
Fortunately, the incident didn’t completely ruin Sherry’s vacation.
“It was just fun. It was my very first cruise and I loved going in the pool. I loved going to the disco bar at night. I loved the shows going on at night. They had a lot of interesting demonstrations on the cruise so it was real fun,” says Sherry, adding that she would travel with Transgender Vacations again.
“The rest of the cruise went very well,” agrees Stephanie. “Everybody had a wonderful time.”
“That made me feel good about the situation. I’m just happy and I’m very pleased that this is coming true,” she says. “I just want this to get bigger. I know the time is right for us to have a fun time traveling to exotic places and being yourself.”
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