Cayman Minister Is No-Show in N.Y.

NEW YORK -- The tourism minister of the Cayman Islands failed to show up at a luncheon at which he was blasted for denying a gay group permission to visit the country on a ship in February.

Thomas Jefferson, the Cayman's tourism minister, was slated to address the Association of Travel Marketing Executives' April 15 meeting here but was called away on legislative matters, an ATME spokeswoman said.

John D'Allesandro, president of the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association, told the ATME group the decision to deny the gay group access "was wrong, just as wrong as if the U.S. were to deny entry to" people from the Cayman Islands. To drive home his point, D'Allesandro quoted from the tourism minister's letter to Norwegian Cruise Line denying the group's visit, but substituted people from the Cayman Islands for a reference to the tour group, saying:

"Mr. Jefferson... I would like to welcome you to the U.S.... but I can't, because, and I quote, 'careful research and prior experience has led us to conclude that we cannot count on people from the Cayman Islands to uphold the standards of appropriate behavior expected of visitors to the U.S., so we regrettably cannot offer our hospitality.' "

He called for the Cayman Islands to "correct this situation" by stating publicly that it welcomes all law-abiding visitors.

D'Allesandro said his organization so far has been unsuccessful in "creating a compromise" with Cayman tourism officials since the country denied the request for a Feb. 1 port call by NCL's Leeward, which had been chartered by gay operator Atlantis Events.

In response to D'Allesandro's remarks, a Cayman Islands Department of Tourism spokeswoman said the department had met with the gay rights group in March. The spokeswoman said the island does not have a policy banning gay group trips and cited a "bad experience" with a large gay tour group several years ago as reason for denying access to the NCL ship. She said conservative residents objected to behavior by members of that group, which she described as "bordering on [public] sexual conduct."

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