Sunday, August 14, 2016

'Friends of Dorothy' come out of closet; travel agent confirms new cruise line policies


I

t was bound to happen eventually. “Friends of Dorothy” meetings, once posted on daily cruise ship programs as mysterious, informal get-togethers, now tend to be noted for what they really are – LGBT mixers.
That came to my attention on the Carnival Vista July 9-19 cruising from Barcelona to Athens with nine port stops in France, Italy, Turkey and Greece along the way. One of three straight women with whom I traveled asked me before we flew to Spain what a “Friend of Dorothy” that she noted so often on cruise ship programs mean?

I explained that cruise ships began using the term decades ago when homosexuality remained illegal to signify that passengers who wanted to meet other gay men or lesbians that they could at a designated spot, usually one of the smaller ship bars.

“Well, who is Dorothy?” my friend persisted.
I had assumed that Dorothy referred to the main character in the “Wizard of Oz” played by Judy Garland because she and her song “Over the Rainbow” became favorites of gay men. Turns out I might have been wrong about that. Some gay historians theorize that Dorothy actually refers to Dorothy Parker, a poet and scriptwriter who produced “A Star Is Born”. Parker was infamous for her glitzy social circle in the 1940s and 1950s that included many gay men and bisexuals.
 
The term “Friends of Dorothy” gained widespread use after World War II, and investigators for the U.S. Military began to suspect that the mysterious organization might be a spy ring, according to the gay historians. Given that many gay activists prior to the Stonewall Rebellion in 1969 belonged to the U.S. Communist Party, it’s easy to see how the organization became somewhat notorious, even though it really never officially existed.

“That’s interesting,” my friend said about the history of the term. She noted that she had always wondered what “Friends of Dorothy” meant but never before met anyone who could tell her. “I know a lot of lesbians,” she said.
She asked me what went on in the gatherings, and I said that I really didn’t know. I never went to one. I tended to turn wherever I partied into a gay bar, whether it be a country and western bar, jazz club, casino or whatever.

“Do you want to go?” I asked her. “It might be interesting to see what they do at them.”
My friend said that would be OK with her because she harbored no anti-gay bigotry. Previously married with children and grandchildren, I knew she was unlikely to be confused about her sexual orientation. Just curious, as I had become at that point too.

Much to my surprise, when we got on the ship and perused the schedules I couldn’t find a reference to “Friends of Dorothy” anywhere. My last cruise in September of last year on Holland America’s  Amsterdam going to Alaska out of Seattle had included such a meeting on the schedule in one of the bars.
“That strange,” I said.

Then my friend asked me another curious question. “What is LGBT?” she said.
 
I looked at the schedule, and I told her that the ship apparently had dropped the “Friends of Dorothy” ruse and was outright publicizing a gay and lesbian party.

“But what does LGBT mean?” she said.
I explained it referred to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people. I was surprised she had never come across that term. I had observed plenty of LGBT people on all of my cruises, including one tall transgender woman wearing a huge platinum wig on the Alaskan cruise.

“Do you still want to go to the party? I said.
We agreed to check out the LGBT gathering, and that led to a shock. The bar turned out to be open to one of the ship hallways, and it included about a dozen barstools and a few tables with chairs. The bar was packed, but not with the people I expected to see.

Straight couples sat at all of the seats, enjoying pre-dinner cocktails. I didn’t bother asking any of them if they had come to attend the LGBT party. I knew they wouldn’t have a clue as to what I meant.
It looks like the LGBT community has come so far that it no longer needs any sort of special meetings, no matter what the cruise ships might call them.
After I reported my observations in the Dallas Voice, travel agent Doug Thompson confirmed them.
"As a travel agent I sat on the LGBT Task Force for the Cruise Line Industry Association. In 2013 we began to petition each of the cruise lines to stop the use of the term "Friends of Dorothy." Our reasoning was simple. We no longer wanted to be treated like we were in the closet as some secret society."
Thompson added that younger LGBT travelers and even older travelers not accustomed to traveling might not understand the terminology.
Cruise lines now leave the decisions of onboard programing up to individual cruise directors, but all are enthusiastic about the recommendations that "LGBT Gatherings" be included in the schedules, according to Thompson.
Passengers who do not see the information listed on the schedules can contact the front desk for information where a community board also lists information.
So there we have it. The LGBT equality movement has reached yet another height. There are plenty of LGBT-only cruises available, but they are often more expensive than mainstream cruises and not what everyone wants to experience.
As Thompson points out, you can now call your travel agent or the cruise line directly and tell them what you want a LGBT-friendly cruise.
"Any of your local travel agents will be happy to help you plan for your cruise vacation," Thompson said.