Tampa LGBT Leaders Join Cruise to Explore Community in Cuba
It’s a time of rapid steps toward equality for the Tampa area’s LGBT community — the once-resistant Hillsborough County commission signed a Tampa Pride proclamation in March, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized same sex marriage in June, and the next day a quarter million people jammed the streets of St. Petersburg for its annual Pride Parade.
Now, some local LGBT leaders are planning to carry the momentum with them to Cuba.
At least 50 people from the Tampa area, including prominent LGBT leaders, will join a gay-themed cruise in January for education and outreach with members of the Cuban LGBT community, including discussions on the campaign to achieve equality in both nations, said Al Ferguson, owner of Sarasota’s ALandCHUCK.travel, which is planning the trip.
“Cuba is just 90 miles away from Key West but might as well be on the moon,” Furguson said. “Much of our gay community knows little about Cuba’s and they may know little about ours. I am a firm believer that travel can lead to change. Visiting Cuba can open dialogue between us and help us both.”
Though same sex marriage remains illegal in Cuba, the island nation can point to its own advances toward equality from the times when gays and lesbians were rounded up and sent to work camps. The LGBT lives and works openly there today.
The eight-day, seven-night excursion leaves Jan. 15 from Montego Bay, Jamaica, and flights to Montego from Tampa International Airport are part of the package deal.
The ship will sail around Cuba, stopping at ports in Santiago, Havana, Maria la Gorda and Cienfuegos. Passengers will take tours of each area for educational purposes — one of 12 categories of travel to Cuba that are legal under relaxed U.S. rules — and experience Havana’s gay cultural scene.
The tour group will meet with leaders of Cuba’s LGBT community and Ferguson will be a guest on radio and television programs to discuss the equality movement in the U.S.
At the end of each day, as many as 1,200 passengers return to the ship for dining, dancing and parties.
The State Department has approved cruises to Cuba from the U.S., and Carnival Corp. has announced plans to offer trips from Miami soon, but travel via a third nation remains the only cruise option today.
The cruise will be among the first with a gay theme since President Obama announced the normalization of relations with Cuba in December after five decades of a U.S. travel and trade embargo.
ALandCHUCK.travel has more Cuban cruises planned from Montego on Feb. 26 and April 8.
Furguson began planning the cruise shortly after Obama’s announcement.
His travel company is a major financial supporter of both the St. Petersburg and Tampa pride events as well as the Tampa International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. The company also promotes the Tampa area as one of the best vacation destinations anywhere for the LGBT community.
Carrie West, founder of Tampa’s GaYBOR District Coalition, called Furguson a good ambassador for Florida’s LGBT community.
“He is world travelled and is known around the country as being supportive of pride events,” West said. “I think he will make a great first impression. He supports the gay community everywhere he goes. Adding Cuba to that list seems right.”
West welcomes the chance to join one of the cruises later in the year — after finishing a home renovation project.
“This is an unbelievable opportunity to have fun and make a difference,” he said. “I’m jealous of those going.”
Source: The Tampa Tribune