Royal Caribbean is “Coming Out” for equality

Published on : Thursday, May 19, 2016

royal caribbean intRoyal Caribbean is embracing the LGBT community in a big way in 2016 by appointing its first Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Grant Van Ulbrich. Here, GayTalks to Van Ulbrich about the company’s commitment to inclusion for the LGBT community and for all persons in 2016 — “come home to us, we’ll be your family.”


Grant Van Ulbrich remembers his first experience on a ship like it was yesterday.


But it wasn’t a luxury liner that made the cruise industry veteran fall in love with life at sea — it was a naval ship.


Van Ulbrich served in the Navy during the Persian Gulf War, and for the Kansas native, leaving the Midwest behind to work alongside a group of people from all different backgrounds in an intimate space like a ship was exciting. It was a special time for Van Ulbrich — one in which he thought he learned everything there was to learn about diversity.


And then he stepped foot on his first cruise ship.


“I remember when I walked on board my very first Celebrity cruise ship,” Van Ulbrich said in an interview with “That day I met my first Serbian. He was 7 feet tall. I’d never seen anyone like him. He figured out fairly quickly that I was gay, and that just wasn’t OK in Serbia. They stone you in the streets for that. He hated me.”


But cruise life being what it is, Van Ulbrich and the Serbian straight man spent every day for the next four months working alongside each other. And at the end of the four months, when the contract ended and it was time for everyone to go home, Van Ulbrich broke down. He ran up to his Serbian friend, threw his arms around him and started to cry – not exactly the goodbye the Serbian was expecting.


“He looked at me and he said, ‘Why are you crying?’ I told him I loved him — he’d become such an important friend to me. And he looked at me and he said, ‘you don’t understand. You’ve changed my life. Now I have to go back to Serbia and tell people, gay is OK.’”


That was more than 10 years ago. This summer, Van Ulbrich is going to Serbia for the first time for a two week vacation with his Serbian friend. That’s the extraordinary impact cruises can have on people — cruising brings people together, Van Ulbrich says. That experience was also the first of many that have prepared him for his new position with Royal Caribbean Cruises, Ltd.


Starting this May, Van Ulbrich will begin serving as the company’s first Director of Diversity and Inclusion with a focus on all minority groups – in particular, the LGBT community. It’s a coming out party of sorts – Van Ulbrich’s second but the company’s first. Though Royal Caribbean has long been committed to its LGBT employees and client base, in his new position, Van Ulbrich says he will officially be leading the company out of the corporate closet and sending a message to travelers all over the world.


“We’re you, we’re the same,” he says. “When you come on board, you can feel at home and be yourself. You have a strong LGBT ally in Royal Caribbean.”

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