Vada the new history exhibit at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax: “Hello Sailor: Gay Life on the Ocean Wave.” Based on a book by the same name, the exhibit celebrates the surprisingly open atmosphere on cruise ships and cargo vessels from the 1950s through the 1980s.
Out gay men made marvelous service staff (as the Real Housewives have more recently discovered), while the more technical roles required a measure of closeting.
But even in those conservative times, it was not unheard of for straight crewmembers to protect their queer colleagues. “He may be queer, but he’s our queer,” one sailor once said. Ships even hosted gay marriages, decades before anyone even imagined that such relationships could ever be recognized back on land.
Why was there so much less intolerance out at sea? It’s hard to say. Maybe there’s just something about working in close proximity that makes people appreciate each other. That bodes well for life in the Army post-DADT.
We also highly recommend taking a look at the Merseyside Maritime Museum’s online exhibit, which includes a section on Polari, the secret gay language of the British homosexual. Can we please bring this back into common usage?