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Gay Bermuda tourism CEO: LGBTI boycott ‘counter-intuitive’ after marriage equality reversal

Written by gaytourism

When Bermuda became the first country to repeal same-sex marriage in February, it made global news.

The British Overseas Territory originally legalized same-sex marriage on 5 May 2017; however, when the Progressive Labour Party gained a majority in July 2017, MP Wayne Furbert announced his intention for a bill banning same-sex marriage, arguing it offered same-sex couples more rights.

Introducing the Domestic Partnership Act in November, it passed the House by a 24-10 vote and the Senate by an 8-3 vote, before receiving royal assent from the governor.

‘Bermuda just banned marriage equality – I guess I’m canceling my trip’

Many members of global LGBTI community were, of course, outraged. Everyone from TV star Ellen DeGeneres (‘Bermuda just banned marriage equality. I guess I’m canceling my trip. Anybody else?’) to LGBTI activist Peter Tatchell called for queer travelers to boycott the destination, which has a population of 65,000 people. (Meanwhile, Carnival Corporations is working with local LGBTI advocacy group, OUTBermuda to help its legal appeal against the law.)

However, one LGBTI person has a slightly different take on the situation.

Here Kevin Dallas, the openly gay CEO of the Bermuda Tourism Authority, discusses the nuances of the bill, its potential effect on tourism, and just how LGBTI-friendly the island nation really is…

How did you feel personally when you heard about the marriage equality reversal?

The only answer is disappointed. However, I would say that it was personally complicated for me, because my partner and I were civil unioned in the UK. For us, the Domestic Partnership Act actually means new rights we didn’t have before. So on the one hand, I was personally disappointed that something was taken away. On the other, pragmatically, this law leaves my partner and I in a better place.

Laws can be so confusing…

They certainly can, and that’s one of the challenges in this situation. One of the reasons the Tourism Authority opposed the Domestic Partnership Act is that while we recognize that on balance it added more than it subtracted, we also recognized it boils out to a really unattractive headline.

Are you afraid of the change in law affecting Bermuda’s tourism?

It’s too soon to know what the impact could be. But it’s certainly something we’re monitoring closely. I think it’s been said elsewhere, but Bermuda’s had a fantastic run for tourism over the last two years. We’re up 30%. That growth is overwhelmingly coming from a younger more experiential visitor, who are almost by definition more diverse than the traditional Bermuda visitor.

They are more likely to be non-white, more likely to self-identify as something other than straight. That is the reality of where [our] growth is coming from. The negative headlines are clearly something that mean something to a percentage of that target audience.

A typical Bermudan scene | Photo courtesy of Bermuda Tourism Authority

Are there any steps we as LGBTI people and travelers can take to help?

I think so. I guess of course I would say that given my profession! But I really do believe in the transformative power of travel. Personally, in my career as an out professional in the US and more recently in London, I’ve found nothing makes a bigger difference to win hearts and minds than being present and visible. So to my mind the idea that LGBT people and supporters of equality would stay away from Bermuda and stay out of the debate [would be] highly counter-intuitive to what people are trying to achieve.

What would you say to an LGBTI traveler who has a perception that Bermuda is LGBTI-unfriendly because of the law change?

I would say two things. The first is very straightforward. LGBT visitors are safe and welcome in Bermuda. Bermuda’s tourism industry clearly is committed to inclusivity and treating all visitors with respect.

The second thing is a bit more nuanced. As a gay Bermudian, I feel pretty lucky to have been born here and not the many other places where LGBT travelers go looking for a Bermuda-Like experience. Despite this more recent setback, Bermuda’s track record on advancing LGBT rights in the last 20 years is pretty good.

We won same-sex partner immigration rights, we won same-sex partner adoption rights. Gays and lesbians can serve in our military. We have no ban on transsexuals like President Trump is trying to force in the US. And the Domestic Partnership Act gives us, as I said in the beginning, civil rights of marriage. It’s short of what we want, however, if you take the emotion out of it, and you compare Bermuda to most other island nations, Bermuda actually has a pretty progressive track record.

Darren Burn from [tour operator] Out of Office wrote a blog piece suggesting travelers should avoid Bermuda and cruise lines should stop calling here. But at the same time, he recommends same-sex honeymoons in The Maldives. That does strike me as somewhat hypocritical. [Darren responds to Kevin’s comments at the bottom of this article].

Did you meet your partner in Bermuda?

No. I was born and raised here, but I was living in London for more than the last decade. So my partner and I met there and moved back here together.

And now you live this beautifully idyllic existence on this paradise island together?

[Laughs] I would say I would not have moved back to Bermuda if I was not convinced it was a welcoming place where we can openly be ourselves. For that matter, I would not have moved back if Bermuda did not have immigration rights for my same-sex partner. One thing I would throw in there is some of the stories of what it’s like to be gay in Bermuda in The Advocate and on The Huffington Post are [by] people who haven’t lived in Bermuda for 30 or 40 years. I think we all have horror stories of what the world was like 30 or 40 years ago. Bermuda today is not the Bermuda I grew up in. It may not have been a place I wanted to live.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, to observe the change and progress that occurs in huge countries, and how it occurs on islands with small populations too…

Yes, and perhaps on slightly different timelines. One of the things that I recognize is how quickly the world is moving on this issue. We kind of forget it was only 10 years ago that California voters passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. And of course, they never repealed that. It was overturned by the courts in the end.

Do you have lots of LGBT friends on the island?

Yeah. Bermuda is a small but vibrant, racially-mixed LGBT community.

Finally, what is the message you’d like to get across to LGBT travelers about Bermuda?

Really simply, it’s that Bermuda welcomes them. Sometimes the law might lag behind. But LGBT travelers can feel safe in Bermuda.

There’s a little bit of a misunderstanding between… there’s a difference between reaching out to a community that’s got a negative message to reassure them they are welcome and safe, verses actively targeting that community as travelers. It would be a rather bizarre thing to do to suddenly launch a big drive for LGBT visitors after passing the Domestic Partnership Act. That’s not what anybody here, or [at least] anyone at the Tourism Authority is talking about. What we recognize is that the passage of that act left many people confused and wondering. Our ambition is to reassure them that actually, regardless of the law, they are welcome.

For more information about Bermuda, visit

What happens now?

Lawyer Mark Pettingill filed a motion on 16 February against the Domestic Partnership Act.

He is representing US-based Bermudian Roderick Ferguson. While Ferguson is currently not attempting to wed, he wants that right for himself in the future.

‘My client has the right to the constitutional protection of the law and that has been infringed as a result of the DPA,’ Pettingill has said.

Meanwhile campaigners and activists in Bermuda, the UK and beyond, along with Carnival Cruises, are also supporting OUTBermuda‘s legal appeal against the Domestic Partnership Act.

Darren Burn’s response:

‘We set up [Out of Office] to help progress LBGT rights worldwide and we believe that because people want to travel to destinations where it may be illegal to be gay that we should help them do so in the safest possible way.

‘I do, however, believe that the retraction of LGBT rights and laws is potentially more dangerous than those which have yet to change their laws. When laws go backward it sends a message to other countries that have yet to progress that it’s OK to not move forward and in my opinion, that poses real issues for the progression of LGBT rights worldwide.’

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