Gay and Bi Crew
Many crew have endured some nasty stuff from homophobic and bigoted crew members but these were definitely in the minority. For every bad experience, there were several good. And although none of us should have to suffer any form of discrimination or abuse from anyone, in many cases other crew members stood together to defend our gay crew. This, makes me feel rather proud.
So, we’ll start with a couple of the bad ones… Like the male dayworker who got let go from a sailing yacht a few weeks back after drunkenly telling the stew on a night out he thought the mate was hot. Foolishly, she thought this was funny and told the mate. The mate was that insecure he fired him for it. Can’t help but wonder, if the dayworker had been a pretty little female would she have been fired? Doubtful. Highly doubtful. And disappointing and so intolerant. Since when is finding someone attractive a sackable offence? The mate should have been flattered, the dayworker knew he was straight so what’s the problem? I suspect insecurity.
As decky “Bobby” says, “I wasn’t hired because a captain assumed that as a gay man (I told him at interview because it avoids issues down the line) I was going to fancy him and make things uncomfortable. Wakeup call straight boys, not ALL gay men will immediately find you attractive. When I go to work, I am there to sail and work hard, I am not constantly looking for a relationship.”
“Jenny” a pansexual chef prefers to keep her life private. “My sexual preferences have absolutely nothing to do with my work colleagues. If the lads hear I’m into girls then the guys are fine but I’ve had the odd cabin mate saying she feels uncomfortable. So, I prefer to keep my private life to myself.” She also emphasised she’s there to work, not to find love.
A deckhand was told by the Chief Officer (in front of the other crew) to “change that camp walk… and lower your voice a semitone”. He told me he felt that homophobia and acceptance were very much a generational issue and younger crew seem less bothered. Others disagreed with this saying it’s hit and miss, and actually found women far more accepting than men. Interesting, compared to when it’s a female crew member like “Jenny” above who’s found the opposite.
There’s a well-known captain who is renowned for being a racist, homophobic, bigot (must be proud of that), and quite frankly it’s surprising he still manages to get crew. It seems he’s bullied a huge number of people for any reason he sees fit, but in particular refuses to sail with gay crew. It’s interesting though – perhaps he’s a closet homosexual himself and that’s why he’s so aggressively anti-gay? I know a (straight) chief engineer who asked him that before he left the yacht… Apparently, he went purple. I imagine it’s hard living a lie…
On the more positive side, two openly gay engineers have said they have never had any major issues with their sexuality. One of them now runs a fully gay ER team of three, including his partner. That’s got to be pretty rare! The other engineer said “on the whole I’ve found gays are accepted in the industry nowadays. And if not, well, their boats aren’t getting fixed!”.
Am ex-navy, gay captain told me he feels “banter” is often used as a get out clause if/when people are offended. But, other crew have said they enjoy a certain amount of banter and it goes both ways – but how easy is it to establish boundaries? And how can we be sure it’s “just banter” when sometimes that’s used as a way to thinly disguise discrimination? A challenge, you have to admit.
We have another sad story but with a positive outcome – a temp crew member was fired after telling the captain he refused to share a cabin with a gay crew member. The captain, a lovely chap and a very calm family man was visibly upset and told our lad that he must never worry, or think he’s different to any other crew member, and that he and the management support him. See? There are some great people in our industry, and it’s important we all defend our fellow crew members – we need to stamp out this behaviour.
A well-established chef told me his first yacht was full of bigots and he left when snide remarks became downright homophobic, but said since then he’s never encountered any further issues. He said “Being gay these days is fairly accepted by most crew. You do get the odd senior crew member not willing to have a gay member on their team, however that’s not the norm! I find most yacht crew to be very open about sexuality, whether that be homosexual, bisexual, or lesbian.”
On one particular yacht with gay owners, and mostly gay crew, the captain pulled aside the new steward to discuss his sexual preferences a couple of days in to the job. This was after he’d figured out he was the minority on board as a straight man. How’s that for a change! He said the crew were very respectful and there was never an issue; the girls on the interior always commented on how courteous and polite the crew and owners were. One of the housekeeping girls told me “It was honestly a very nice environment. I have been hit on or spoken to inappropriately by male crew or worse, male guests on other yachts and just had to grin and bear it. My friend has been sexually harassed – so, I got her a job working with me and we loved being able to just do our jobs and not be treated like a piece of meat. I would love to work with gay crew and for gay owners again, it’s been quite liberating. The owners were always considerate as were the crew.”
I spoke with several straight crew who relayed experiences of working for gay or lesbian owners, and the general consensus was that they were some of the best people to work for.
A chief stew who had a gay man and a black muslim lesbian in her team told me, “for me, and the crew on board we loved the diversity of ethnicity, sexuality and religion, everyone was accepting and open. Everyone brought something really different to the table, both professionally and personally.”
There is a secret group I’ve been told about on Facebook for gay crew with over 250 members, and I’ve also been told that it’s been a great support to many who have suffered at the hands of the bigots. It’s always great to know there’s somewhere you can go to talk to likeminded individuals and know you’re not alone. So, my final words on this topic for now (I could go on for days) is that if you’ve been victimised for who you are, by someone else in yachting, is to please not give up on us, these people are in the minority and there’s a whole lot of us whose only concern is that you’re a good person and you do your job well.