Associated Baptist Press May 13, 2004 Volume: 04-44 Gay cruise draws new attention to SBC agency's Carnival stock By Greg Warner DALLAS (ABP) -- The Southern Baptist Annuity Board faces another round of criticism for owning $14 million worth of stock in Carnival Cruise Lines, which is hosting "the First Annual Official Gay Days Cruise" beginning May 30. The four-night Bahamas cruise, aboard Carnival's ship Fantasy, is sponsored by Gay Days Inc. and coincides with Orlando's Gay Days celebration June 1-7, which organizers say will attract 135,000 people to the city. The Southern Baptist Convention and its leaders have been outspoken opponents of gay rights. Since 1997, the SBC has been boycotting the Walt Disney Co. largely because of its gay-friendly policies and events like Gay Days at Disney World. But Annuity Board officials said May 13 that Carnival's gambling business and association with the new gay cruise are not enough to prompt the retirement agency to divest itself of the cruise line's stock. The Annuity Board owns 329,700 shares of Carnival in its Value Index Fund and 26,400 shares in its Equity Index Fund as of December 31 -- together valued at $14.5 million as of May 13. Some Southern Baptists object to the board's holdings in companies such as Carnival because of their involvement in gambling and other questionable activities. Carnival advertises the world's largest on-board gambling casino. The Annuity Board said its screening policy for stocks prohibits investment in "any company that is publicly recognized, as determined by the Annuity Board, as being in the liquor, tobacco, gambling, pornography, or abortion industries, or any company whose products, services or activities are publicly recognized as being incompatible with the moral and ethical posture of the Annuity Board." The Gay Days Cruise is not sponsored by Carnival, which typically does not organize such outings but only makes space available to travel agents and groups. Promotional material from Orlando-based Gay Days Inc. says the Gay Days cruise "is not an all-gay cruise" but that special dinners, events and excursions are planned for gays. "We hope within a few years this event will grow into a buy out," the ad notes. Carnival spokesperson Vance Gulliksen told Associated Baptist Press the company "caters to a very broad demographic and does not discriminate based on race, age, sex, marital status, religion, national origin, physical or mental ability or sexual orientation." "This particular group, like most groups sailing on Carnival, is being sold and marketed through an independent travel agent," Gulliksen said of the gay cruise. A statement from the Annuity Board said the relationship between Carnival and Gay Days Inc. "can be likened to any objectionable sponsor (alcohol, tobacco, gaming, etc.) booking convention space at a hotel, convention center, etc." "If the Southern Baptist Convention should choose to boycott Carnival as it did Disney, we would take appropriate action as we did with Disney," the Annuity Board statement added. "We are in sympathy with the moral concerns of this issue and are continuing to research and evaluate this particular holding." Gay Days started 1991 with a special event at Disney World and now include events at other theme parks and venues in Orlando and other cities during the year. "We thank God that in this great country of ours we have the freedom to go on gay cruises, attractions or wherever we want without the threat of a group like the Taliban outlawing every group except their own," said Chris Alexander-Manley, vice president for sales and marketing for Gay Days Inc. "I'm also happy that businesses such as Carnival look at gay group travel such as ours as business that will help them and our economy," he added. "My husband, Tommy, and I both were raised Southern Baptist, and I'm sure they also aren't happy that Carnival allows drinking, dancing, and gambling on their ships." In March, Annuity Board President O.S. Hawkins acknowledged criticism of the agency's Carnival holdings but said avoiding all questionable stocks is virtually impossible. Hawkins noted Carnival receives only 3 percent of its revenue from gambling. The May statement from the Annuity Board noted more than 300 companies in "prohibited industries" are on a list of restricted investments. "The Annuity Board has a strong moral policy," the statement added. "However, we could go through every stock in the Fortune 500 and probably find some reason why we shouldn't invest in any of them." But Don Allmon of Dyer, Tenn., a frequent critic of Annuity Board investments, said enough is known about Carnival -- even before the gay cruise came to light -- to warrant selling the stock. Allmon, a deacon in First Baptist Church of Dyer, said most Southern Baptists would oppose investing in Carnival if they knew about the company. "I just question our leaders investing in that kind of stock when they know it," he told ABP. He disagreed with the Annuity Board's conclusion that Carnival is not perceived to be in the gambling business. "If they advertise it, how could it not be publicly perceived?" he asked. Allmon said stricter compliance is not that hard. He said his own informal review of the Annuity Board's 1,200-plus holdings shows only 29 companies that are known to be involved in gambling. "After they discover that some of these investments exist, after a reasonable time, why not sell them?" he asked. "I'm not down on Mr. Hawkins because I think he does a good job, but I think they missed on a couple of these." Richard Land, executive director of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and a frequent critic of Gay Days celebrations, did not respond to a request to be interviewed on the topic.