Did the New York Times Use a Homophobic Meme in Writing about Upcoming Gay Cruise?

by Robert Nesti

EDGE National Arts & Entertainment Editor

Sunday January 16, 2022

On Sunday, the New York Times ran a piece about the upcoming event aimed to commemorate the LGBTQ travel company Atlantis Events — a 4,700-person Caribbean cruise marking the company's 30th anniversary.

After describing the event, writer Ceylan Yeginsu cautions in her second graph: "Even as the pandemic is raging around the world and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a stark warning telling Americans to avoid travel on cruise ships, regardless of their vaccination status, Atlantis insists that its vaccination mandate, testing requirements and health protocols are enough to provide a safe environment for guests throughout the voyage."

Then in her third graph, she quotes one guest who anticipates the event.

"It's time to start living our lives again and vaccines and tests allow us to do that. This isn't Covid 2020," said Andre Mayer, a graphic designer from Germany who paid more than $4,000 for the weeklong cruise onboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas. "This is going to be the wildest party for our community in two years. I'm talking dirty dancing, sex, drugs, raves, orgies and sweet, sweet freedom."

The story continues to explain Atlantis's difficult position dealing with cancellations, which, Rich Campbell, chief executive officer of Atlantis Events, says only 35 0f 2700 booked rooms have been canceled. He added that the company is approaching cancellation requests on a case-by-case basis and accommodating as many people as possible.

It also points out how Atlantis plans to enforce Royal Caribbean's health and safety protocols, including a mask mandate indoors except while eating and drinking and in crowded spaces outdoors.

But by leading the story with a stereotype of the carefree, libidinous gay traveler, is the Times' perpetuating a homophobic meme about the gay male traveler? It isn't until much later — the 20th paragraph — does Ms. Yeginsu offer a quote that disputes Mr. Mayer's description. "The cruise is whatever you make of it and there is something for everyone," a  50-year-old talent manager from Nashville, Ron Davis, told the Times. "I have never been part of an orgy, I have never done cocaine off a stair rail. Sure, if you want that you can find it, but it's not all people having rampant sex out in the open."

And has the white, privileged gay male traveler been marginalized in reporting on gay travel during the pandemic?

Gay travel and the coronavirus have been an issue since 2020 when a gay circuit event in the Mexican resort of Puerto Vallarta made headlines, most notably when a party boat sank. Many were criticized for ignoring pandemic guidelines and spreading the virus. This past summer, when it appeared the virus was receding and vaccinations rates were satisfactory, Provincetown was on the brink of a boom summer, that is until after a busy Fourth of July weekend made the town a hot spot when many visitors — both vaccinated and not-vaccinated — became ill.

At the root of the issue is how safe are cruises in general, gay or no. Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported the Center for Disease Control wrote that "coronavirus cases have been reported on every cruise ship sailing with passengers in U.S. waters... all 92 ships with passengers have met the threshold for investigation by the public health agency. In every case, the CDC has either started an investigation or has investigated and continues to observe the ship."

But in writing about a cruise that has yet to embark and its party-hearty clientele while there are cases of coronavirus outbreaks on cruises currently at sea, is the Times inadvertently gay shaming?

Many felt so in the Times comment section:

"The author of this article, ironically, has in her bio that she fought for gender equality issues in Turkey. How ironic that she doesn't understand how her article is slanderous towards gay men," writes Darren in a long post.

Another — Danielle — says she works for a cruise company and disputed the Times reporting.

"This article is garbage, because without the homophobic 'gay' sensationalist clickbait it wouldn't have been published. As someone who works on cruises I can attest that all the cruise lines are sailing with thousands of guests, and all are vaccinated and tested as is the crew. The ratio of Covid cases to guest counts is remarkably small (on a Christmas cruise I was on there were 1500 guests and 3 Covid cases). Cruises are doing a great job considering the nature of their business. The only reason this article exists is to have mention of orgies and drug taking. How about writing about the heterosexual swinger's cruise I worked on in October, on the same ship, which is far more "debauched" than a gay cruise? No? Didn't think so."

A Times reader named S.S. writes: "As a gay man, I'm personally perturbed by this portrayal of gay people - and the quote below from Andre Mayer, a self-appointed spokesperson for the gay "community", is most repulsive !"

Anon wrote a pointed response: "What happened to the woke N.Y. Times (or are gay males now part of white male supremacy and thus good targets for its wrath)? This coverage reminds me of early coverage of AIDS as the "gay plague." Thanks for pointing out that gatherings of gay men are not necessarily orgies. Who even thinks like that anymore? Your reporter, I guess."

Paul writes: "You've just given Fox News their next homophobic story, complete with graphic quotes about "the decadent gay lifestyle" that Democrats are plotting for the viewers' children and grandchildren . . . thanks NYT!"

Times reader Whaaa? asks, "Seriously, NYT? This is not newsworthy in mid-pandemic-omicron-surge-governors-banning-mask-mandates-jam-packed-school-cafeteria-petri-dish America.

"Nor does it have anything, except coincidence, to do with gay culture, and so your title is, as others have pointed out, nothing but cheap (or expensive, as the case may be — I don't know what what the per-word rate or writer salaries are these days) clickbait. Homophobia-promoting clickbait, at that."

David M was confused as to the writer's intent: "I'm not clear what novel insight about the pandemic the writer was attempting to convey with this article. The risks of taking a cruise are well known and have been previously publicized. How safe is any cruise with 5,500 passengers? What about a Disney cruise with unvaccinated three and four year olds running around? This reads like cheap sensational reporting. Disappointing, NYTimes."

And a Times reader named BigGuy offered a reality check to the pic (one from Atlantis) used in the story:

"A man like the fellow in the photo does NOT buy a ticket for a cruise. A man who desires his company buys the ticket. I'm 66, 5'8", and 345 pounds with a 58" waist. Many, many more men aboard look like me than look like him."

While on Twitter, many responses to the N.Y. Times post of the story were homophobic, including its Twitter caption:

Robert Nesti can be reached at [email protected].