Should I hide the fact that I’m gay?

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Q: Anonymous Steward 25:

“I’m a hospitality professional with 5 years in a 5-star hotel (fine dining restaurant and housekeeping), and I have a background in sailing as well as STCW, ENG1 and GUEST level 1. So far, so good, and I know from talking to others in the crew house that I out-qualify lots of the other green stews around, but they’re the ones getting the jobs. I suspect that the fact that I’m a gay male is probably getting in my way. I refused to believe that my gender and sexual orientation was going to be an obstacle in yachting as I haven’t found it to be a barrier in hospitality, but maybe I was way wrong. Do you think I should be hiding the fact that I’m gay?”

A: The Crew Coach:

I’m SO glad you have approached me with this question because, like many of the more ‘taboo’ topics in yachting, sexual orientation is something people rarely discuss publicly in our industry – and yet there is plenty of evidence to support the fact there is active discrimination on this basis, which really ought not to be happening. It’s fair to say there are certainly gay and bisexual crew in our industry, and yachting is definitely becoming more open-minded about this than it used to be. However, I’m not going to pretend you won’t face some obstacles because of this, because you will – and it seems you have already.

There are still plenty of Captains out there who won’t hire an openly gay guy, regardless of the role they are going for, often largely because they worry it will cause uneasiness with other males in the crew, especially the male crew member he shares a cabin with. There’s still a funny tendency for straight people to assume that all gay people of the same sex must be attracted to them, but hey ho, eventually they’ll get the memo when they realise sharing a cabin with you isn’t any different than sharing with a straight person of the same sex.

The reality is, there are rarely mixed gender cabins on yachts because of the perceived potential for sexual awkwardness between heterosexual girls and guys sharing cabins (and if the yacht needs to comply with MLC regulations mixed gender crew cabins are not allowed). This comes from a desire on the part of Captains to avoid possible crew drama by ensuring no-one shares a cabin with anyone they might be attracted to. Sigh, if only life was that simple!!

Thankfully, there are also plenty of Captains who will credit you with enough professionalism to not get romantically entangled with your fellow crew, either male or female. There’s also the possibility (where compliance is not an issue) of a gay male crew member sharing with a female crew member, as long as both parties are happy to do so. But sadly the yachting industry isn’t particularly progressive on the whole, and if you really want to work in this industry sometimes you have to accept that many Captains are still very conservative in their attitudes.

In fact, at the risk of sounding really sexist, you’re actually at a slight advantage over male gay crew who want to work in exterior roles, as in yachting it’s definitely more ‘acceptable’ to have a gay male steward than a gay deckhand, officer or even Captain. There are VERY few openly gay males in senior exterior positions, which is really quite sad, as there is surely no reason why there shouldn’t be. We have openly gay male politicians now in the world (e.g. the Prime Minister of Luxembourg), so let’s hope this public acceptance begins to trickle down to our little yachting bubble before too long.

As for whether you should tell people of your sexuality during interviews, I’d counsel against that unless you’re directly asked, particularly in the early interview stages. It’s not a normal interview question and legally you shouldn’t be asked of course, but it may well come up, especially if you are overtly camp during the meeting. If you are asked, be honest, as if they find out later that you lied to them, you’re leaving yourself open to being sacked or pushed out on the grounds of dishonesty. Nope, not fair, but it could happen. There’s enough yachts out there that will happily hire gay crew, so you don’t need to put yourself through an ordeal like this. You don’t want to be living and working with people who would not accept you for who you really are anyway, that is just a recipe for misery.

Once you’re onboard and have established yourself as a hard working and valued member of the team, you’ll find it’s much easier to sound out your fellow crew’s views and whether it’s ‘safe’ to completely be yourself around them. If you’re fairly camp by nature it might be a good idea to tone it down a little until you figure out how much tolerance there is onbaord. I wish I didn’t have to say all these things, and I know this is wildly different from land jobs where you can complain to employee bodies if you’re being discriminated against for anything, including your sexuality. You probably wouldn’t read an article advising you to keep your sexuality quiet or toning down camp behaviour in the corporate world, and it genuinely pains me to write it here too. But as a yachting industry career coach, I need to tell you what’s widely true in yachting, not what I want to be true.

Having said all this, there are some anti-discrimination laws in yachting now too, and you can always register a complaint with the yacht’s manager or flag state if you run into sexuality-based discrimination. Sadly however, these rules aren’t often enforced and you will have to make a calculated decision as to whether making a complaint will adversely affect your ongoing career in yachting.

Remember, you’re not the only one encountering obstacles and discrimination. Many women struggle to get exterior roles, and straight males also struggle to get interior jobs on yachts, partly again because of cabin arrangements, and Captains not wanting mixed sexes sharing cabins because of the potential for crushes, relationships, and messy breakups. There are some yachts that have only male crew (due to the owner’s religion) where you might find your sexuality is not an issue and your professional credentials are more important. There’s a great Facebook group called Yacht Interior Guys where you can connect with other male stewards and reach out to them for advice and information.

From the sounds of it you’re abundantly well qualified, and some Captains will be really glad that your sexuality means you won’t cause drama by getting involved with the stewardesses! (Whether you choose to form a relationship with any other males onboard is your business and nobody else’s – although as with any onboard relationships, gay or straight, this could also be fraught with difficulties so do tread carefully. The old adage of don’t scr*w the crew is said for good reason!)

On the whole, I believe the reality unfortunately is that you’re operating at more of a disadvantage in yachting than you are in the wider hospitality sector, which generally tends to be a more gay-friendly industry. But I also know plenty of gay yacht crew personally, some of whom have gone on to do wonderful things as crew and then as successful business owners in the yachting world. I know for certain you’ll find boats out there that will welcome and accept you, so keep a positive and professional attitude and once you get that first big break, you’ll be able to have a long and successful career on yachts.

Have your say: Are gay crew members welcome on your yacht? Have you seen or experienced gay discrimination in yachting? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below.

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Alison Rentoul

Alison Rentoul

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