Carnival Cruise: You can dress in drag if your drag looks like your photo ID, which would be NO ONE

Suffer the Children

The stupid. Apparently it burns over water too.

You might have heard by now that Carnival Cruises, yesterday, sent an email to everyone attending its “Drag Stars at Sea Cruise” next week, notifying them that they would not be permitted to dress in drag anywhere on the ship, even at the private drag shows that they’d be attending. The penalty: Being booted off the ship.

More than a few passengers were a little miffed, and dumbfounded, that drag was being banned on a drag cruise. And Carnival’s reason was even creepier: It’s to save the children from having to see flamboyant men in even more flamboyant outfits.

Now, granted, that whole Stonewall thing got a bit of out hand, but in the ensuing 43 years, I’m not entirely sure you can point to a single drag queen that’s been a threat to anyone, especially children. (Unless you consider Michele Bachmann and Lindsey Graham, but I digress.) And in any case, what were kids doing on a drag cruise anyway, and what was Carnival doing booking a drag cruise that would have kids on it if Carnival didn’t feel that drag was appropriate for kids?

Mohammad Atta Was a Drag Queen

Well, there was an uproar, and after much stomping of heels Carnival felt that it needed to better explain things to the angry mob of queens, so they issued another statement. This time they explained they weren’t banning drag to protect the kids, they were banning drag in order to stop the next Muhammad Atta.  Seriously.  You see, Carnival explained, they’ve been forced to ban costumes ever since September 11, for security reasons, you know.

Shorter Carnival: If men dress as women, the terrorists win.

Apparently, Carnival still thinks the year is 2002, when everything President Bush wanted simply had to be appended with a “it’s for September 11, you know” and, like magic, Democrats and the country as a whole would gleefully roll over and accept it.

Now, not so much.

Also, it should be noted, that Carnival has other cruises where you can wear costumes without fearing that the guy in the burqa next to you is packing C-4 in his va-jay-jay.  So why the different standard on a gay cruise?

Carnival Va-jay-jay Inspections for Everyone!

Of course, Carnival added that trans people, be they transexuals or cross-dressers, were most welcome on the cruise, and they would be accommodated.  Leading many to scratch their heads and wonder who among Carnival’s staff was going to be performing va-jay-jay checks on the female guests in order to verify that they were in fact women.  And if they were “men dressed as women,” what standard was Carnival going to use to determine if a guest was “a guy in drag” versus a guest who in fact is transgender?  Ask them for the secret trans handshake?

Carnival: You Can Dress in Drag So Long as Your Drag Persona Is You

Well.  You’ll be surprised to hear that Carnival’s “September 11 made me do it” excuse didn’t go over too well with the queens of the sea, so Carnival is yet again changing its story and saying that anyone who presents a government-issued photo ID, and who looks like that ID in drag, can dress in drag at the private drag shows. Otherwise, Carnival is happy to refund your cruise ticket.

As you can imagine, zero percent of the population looks like their government-issued photo ID while in drag, so Carnival is basically telling passenger to suck it up or get off their ship.

Here’s Carnival’s latest:

Gerry Cahill
President and CEO
Carnival Cruise Lines

Within the last 24 hours, we became aware of a miscommunication between Carnival Cruise Lines and, who have booked a large special interest group on the upcoming Carnival Glory cruise departing December 2, 2012.

The group, “Drag Stars at Sea,” includes several performances by stars from Logo TV as part of a series of private events onboard. When the group was presented to us we were advised that only the performers would be dressed in drag during the private events. However, we are now aware that this was not clearly communicated to members of the group and therefore anyone who wishes to dress in drag may do so. Please keep in mind that our safety and security procedures require guests to present government-issued ID, and to be recognizably that person.

At Carnival, we are proud to carry more than 4.5 million guests every year and we welcome them all aboard. We do not practice any form of discrimination against the LGBT or any other community. We sincerely apologize for the miscommunication and for any unintended offense we have caused.

Given this misunderstanding, anyone on this cruise who wishes to cancel for any reason may do so and will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as reimbursement for any non-refundable travel related expenses.

We constantly strive to provide our guests with a fun and memorable vacation. We look forward to welcoming everyone onboard Carnival Glory and again want to apologize for the misunderstanding and for any offense we have caused.

Gerry Cahill
President and CEO
Carnival Cruise Lines

To quote my contracts law professor, Carnival appears to be rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Stay tuned for the next installment, because this clearly isn’t over yet.  For example, Carnival has already opened itself up to potential lawsuits in any part of the country that covers gender identity/expression in local civil rights laws. As I noted earlier:

Here’s another fun question: Is Carnival violating local public accommodations laws that include gender identity?

Thirteen states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations. Although the exact definition of a “public accommodation” varies from state to state, a wide variety of businesses are typically covered by such statutes, including restaurants, hotels, theaters, and retail stores. These private businesses that are open to the public may not discriminate based on a person’s transgender status. Private clubs and religious organizations, however, are often exempt from the reach of public accommodations laws.

If you live in a city that has a public accommodations law that covers gender identity, and Carnival tells you that your gender identity, or more precisely your gender expression, is not welcome on a Carnival Cruise, then Carnival may be setting itself up for a whopper of a civil rights lawsuit.  While you might need to be transgender to sue under gender identity, I’d think anyone could sue under gender expression.  Again, if local law protects gender identity and/or expression in public accommodations, and if Carnival is “doing business” in that town or state that includes these protections, and a Web site making sales in that state could be construed as “doing business,” Carnival could be liable under local civil rights laws to anyone wanting to purchase a ticket on this cruise and wanting to dress as another gender.

And I’d argue that it’s not enough for Carnival to say “well, you can refund your ticket” – it doesn’t work for African-Americans to say, “you’re not welcome on the ship, but you can have your money back.”  And by saying that your ID has to look like you, that means you’re per se banning gender non-conforming clothing of any kind, be the rationale trans, drag or whatever.

It’s also not enough for Carnival to say that drag is not permitted, but trans people are a-okay. As I note above, how exactly is Carnival going to enforce its oddly confusing policy that “men had better dress as men, unless they’re trans, in which case they can dress as women, unless their clothing goes too far, then they’ll be kicked off the cruise too”?

Not to mention, how will Carnival know that the woman before them (or the man, for that matter) doesn’t have the “right” sexual organs for their clothing to be gender-conforming?

And most important of all, can we pick which crew member does the spot check?

Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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51 Responses to “Carnival Cruise: You can dress in drag if your drag looks like your photo ID, which would be NO ONE”

  1. You know what children would find disturbing or even damaging on a Carnival cruise? Not Dame Edna, and not a fancy dress party. No, it’s the sight of morbidly obese passengers (including parents) gorging themselves on endless buffets of unhealthy “food,” the alcoholics, the compulsive gamblers, and the cigar/cigarette smoking zones (including on deck).

  2. RyansTake says:

    I love it when companies make it easier for me to spend my money elsewhere.

  3. Their security procedures require that you present a passport WHEN BOARDING. The addition of two little words would have averted so much unfounded outrage. The man said you are welcome to dress in drag on the cruise. Just keep in mind that if you do so when boarding the ship, you’ll have issues getting aboard. That’s it. It probably just went without saying for anyone in the industry (or for anyone who’s ever been on a cruise) that when he referred to security procedures, he wasn’t saying you have to present photo ID while out at sea wandering the ship’s public areas.

    Settle down, y’all. They screwed up, and clumsily tried to fix it. The only thing they haven’t done here yet is apologize – and THAT is what you should be upset about. Not some manufactured pique at something that the second letter never actually said.

  4. 2 Lil Monkeys says:

    This is ridiculous. I mean the only time the Photo ID is necessary is when you are boarding the ship, and I’m sure passengers would not arrive in drag. That’s just be uncomfortable.
    I’m not quite sure where the “miscommunication” is. The first letter was clear. Dress in Drag = Bye Bye Cruise. The second letter does not address this at all. Was it a miscommunication between the company and Vicky, or Vicky and the Drag Stars passangers?
    As a parent of 2 preK aged children, I think the better option would have been issuing an advisory to passangers that did not book the Drag Stars experience, offering a refund if they wished. I say leave it up to the passengers if they want to discriminate, it is highly inappropriate for a company to do so.
    Here I am trying to teach my children acceptance. Had a discussion with my 4 year old about gay marriage and how and why it is acceptible. She may not get it yet, but she will, because I’ll continue to discuss these topics.
    I guess I’ll be taking the kids on a Disney Cruise instead.

  5. olandp says:

    It seems like the people for giving Carnival a break didn’t live through the subtle discrimination that many of us have endured. This ID thing gives the cruise line an out to do whatever they like. In my southern city during the 80s straight clubs would keep gays (my friends and I in particular) out by invoking a dress code, shirts must have a collar, that is selectively enforced.

    Cruising doesn’t really appeal to me, but if I were to go on one, it would never be on a Carnival line boat. Everyone should demand a refund.

  6. Stratplayer says:

    Does Carnival also plan to bar genetic women wearing makeup that makes them look dramatically different from their photo ids? Perhaps they should ban makeup and other facial adornments altogether irrespective of birth gender so there’s no chance of misidentification. I can’t understand why these fools keep digging in on this.

  7. met00 says:

    I have a very close friend who at 50 was undergoing a case of gender confusion earlier this year. This person sought and got help, Part of that help was to attend a group meeting where there were a number of people there going through various transitions. As I read the above I thought about some of those people who I had a chance to meet through my friend. In particular I thought about one trans person who was a year and a half into HRT. As she had not yet undergone FRS and her facial features were still somewhat male-ish (softer, but still male-ish) while it was clear that her figure was starting to take on her gender identity. I wonder how she would have been treated had she chosen to attend this and had elected to wear the gender stereotypical clothes of her chosen gender.

    Someone has no idea what a person goes through when dealing with gender dysphoria (SP?) and things like hormone replacement therapy, facial reconstruction surgery and the like. Bad move by a company that was once viewed as a champion of gay rights.

  8. benb says:

    Here are the rules my High School adopted back in the 70s:

    1) Is it safe? Are you wearing something that presents a hazard to you or anyone around you? Like a steel wool wig that, if it catches a flame, will burn through asbestos or 9″ heels when the ship is barreling through a gale? Yeah, no you can’t wear it.

    2) Is it legal? …i.e….are you wearing something in public that is generally considered obscene in the sex-phobic US …like women going topless…or men wearing nothing but leather chaps? Or *any* kind of fragrance (god, I’d rather be trapped in an elevator with chain smokers than have to smell the greasy odor of perfume on women or…god save us all…that crap men smear on themselves–like those headache inducing scented deordorants).

    3) Is it appropriate? A muumuu—okay in the buffet but not in the fancy restaurant. Underwear on men in form-fitting clothes–never. That little black dress at breakfast—girlfriend is off her meds and been up all night trying to dock every ship that’s passed in the night.

    Carnival better come to their senses or there’s gonna be an Action and, I have to say, it’s gonna be Pretty.

  9. J.W. Swift says:

    Not to mention that situations in other sovereign countries are not necessarily something we can control or do something about, while a situation involving an American company discriminating against Americans is something we should legitimately have some say about.

  10. JamesR says:

    LOL me too

  11. J.W. Swift says:

    I’ve been on a Carnival cruise, and it was important for each passenger to have a valid photo ID that looks like them, but it only mattered when getting on or off the ship. I cannot imagine a situation other than proof of age to drink or gamble where you would need to show your ID while underway.

  12. FunMe says:

    You just get a “sea pass”, right?

  13. FunMe says:

    I’ve never done it, but I’d do drag for free drinks. :-)

  14. FunMe says:

    So they call this brouhaha as a “miscommunication” and “misunderstanding”. Really? They scheduled a drag show knowing that the travel company coordinating it is gay, yet they didn’t think some of the customers would dress in a drag, in a drag show no less. Really?

    It’s not like Carnival doesn’t know about RSVP and Atlantis where people dress in drag in many of their theme parties and no one give a damn. Granted, those are gay cruises, but come on! They accepted having a drag show on the boat. They can’t just start banning others on what to wear.

    I say, let the lawsuits begin!

  15. HereinDC says:

    So…let’s say 25 people who show up at the theater that night are in drag…and they don’t look like there ID…..does that mean these 25 people are NOT paying passengers….and these 25 people snuck onto the ship? What if it’s 50 people don’t look like their ID. 50 people snuck onto the ship? ? I wish someone would present it that way to a Carnival spokesperson.

  16. Pat says:

    I think the reference to looking like your ID in that last letter is them saying “Look, all we meant when we brought up the ID thing before was…”
    Is it honest? Maybe not. But they’re attempting to justify what they said before as innocent, not making new requirements.

  17. Pat says:

    I’m not a feminist? I’m sorry, did you just call me a bigot? I don’t appreciate that.
    Of course I’m a bleeping feminist.

  18. HereinDC says:

    ONCE you’re on a ship….you NEVER need your Gov’t ID. NEVER…..Can I stress that again….you NEVER NEED your Gov’t ID on board. You only need that when you do Check-in.

    So, could Carnival be trying to find a way out of this mess.

    I’ve done 4 Transatlantic crossings…..and once you are on board…I NEVER carry my wallet…. NEVER. That’s the best thing about being on the ship….you don’t need your wallet. The only ID you need is the ID issued by the ship and THAT is NOT a Gov’t ID…it’s a Ship ID…….. SO…it’s not really a “Government ID” that you carry on the ship.

    I think Carnival has found a way to let all board the ship and be in drag

  19. Don says:

    I agree with you as well Curtis. Carnival is a very good organization and have always been very gay friendly when I have traveled with them. They are trying their best and it seems like we are putting them in a no-win situation and being too critical of their responses. They only mentioned that you need a government ID – I took that as being helpful and not insulting in any way.

  20. AdmNaismith says:

    Yes, at the very least.

  21. Really? That’s not what Carnival said. And it’s kind of odd that they’d feel the need to tell people that they’ll need a government ID to board the ship to start the cruise, that’s kind of expected, isn’t it, like flying? It sounds like they’re talking about carding people as they walk into the drag performances, and that if you’re in drag, you’d better be recognizable. And in good drag, you’re simply not. I’ve been to good drag, we have a show here in dc that gets an audience of 2500 every year, the contestants are unrecognizable by face. I’ve met friends that I had no idea who they were.

  22. Not here in DC. Go to the Miss Adams Morgan contest – no one is recognizable as who they really are. Guys I know I don’t recognize when they come up to me. Very well done drag is not recognizable – take Ru Paul. I didn’t recognize his non-drag self at all.

  23. I have to tell you, I’m immediately suspicious of anyone who refuses to tell me outright that everything is going to be okay. Your argument, that everything is fine is contradicted by the fact that Carnival isn’t saying that everything is going to be fine. And they’re not talking about carding people before they start the cruise – that’s a given. So there’d be no reason to mention that they’re going to be checking IDs to get on the boat, and that you need to look like your ID – anyone who’s ever flow in this country understands how that works.

    The premise we’re starting with is a cruise company that freaked out that a bunch of f-gs were going to be on its boat, then lied about it (first suggesting it was fear for the children, then claiming, incredibly, 9/11 – so one was a lie, at least), and now is giving some half-way answer that, when you think about it, suggests that no one in drag will be allowed. And you think everything’s fine, that we should just trust Carnival, even though they’re seemingly afraid to admit up front what you’re claiming they’re really going to do, just accept us.

    You call it trust. I’d call it naivete.

    As for Uganda, read the blog, we’ve been covering it, and will again in the morning. But let’s not suggest that if people aren’t on the verge of being sentenced to death there’s no gay rights issues to be concerned about. In that case, we shouldn’t even be worrying about gay marriage, or ENDA, or gays in the military, or immigration rights, because no one is being sentenced to death.

  24. HereinDC says:

    When you renew your DC drivers licence, they ask you if you want to use the pic that is on file. Welll, 11 years ago I HAD a full set of hair, I now have, um, less hair, ( the hair timmer is set on 1). I NO WAY look like I did 11 years ago, let alone went from 125 lbs to 160 lbs and the pic was taken after I was at the beach for 2 weeks! ( Yes, I’m gay, i purposely went and got my pic taken after bring at the beach for 2 weeks. Good Grief, I don’t look like my pic!

  25. JamesR says:


    That reminds me – here’s some real Southern hospitality:

  26. JamesR says:

    (*were* paying a fortune for…)

  27. JamesR says:

    Good point.

    It’s a real slippery slope down to somewhere I really don’t wanna go.

  28. Zorba says:

    LOL! Exactly, k. ;-)

  29. karmanot says:

    The kids would think you were a seal, but the straight parents might have a moment or two.

  30. karmanot says:

    Got that wrong dude. I’m gay and a feminist. We should ask ourselves whether Stephani Miller would laugh at us.

  31. karmanot says:

    And worse, they are insulting their clients, who are paying a fortune for the privilege.

  32. karmanot says:

    But the kiddies can wear drag Muppet costumes or Barney outfits or GI Joe camouflage?

  33. Jake Orlando says:

    If you go along with the premise that the CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, Gerry–with a G–is sitting in her chair petting her hairless cat villianously laughing at a joke her best friend, Shirley Phelps, just cracked about gays, then there is no doubt in my mind that anyone can come up with these needlessly cynical conclusions, you’re right.

    Nobody from Carnival is going to be running around that ship carding drag queens and kicking them off the cruise. Those in drag, along with everyone else, will be expected, however, to present identification at security checkpoints upon boarding.

    This is a non-issue and we are creating this soap opera needlessly just because we’re not satisfied with the level of LGBT support they will go to. I guess having a cruise dedicated to drag entertainment is only the bare minimum and borderlines on homophobia and transphobia.

    There are real issues to be focusing on. Uganda is on the brink of imposing life imprisonment for being gay and we’re sitting here turning a great LGBT rights movement into a competition to see who can present the most trivial issues.

  34. karmanot says:

    How can you tell if a perceived drag appearance is not the normal wear for a woman? Some drag queens look like middle aged Moms in formal wear.

  35. Josh says:

    It just says “recognizably” like the ID. Not exactly. Even my most flamboyant drag friends are still “recognizably” like their ID photos (and I used to do 2257 compliance for porn, so I have a pretty good sense of what counts as “recognizable” in terms of ID).

    And sure, their policy is that EVERYONE has to have ID at some point, but while I don’t think the straights are getting carded, I don’t think anyone else will either (in part because you’ve publicized this).

  36. SFSFSF says:

    What if your drag look was a full latex bondage suit that completely covers your face?

    I think this is the issue they are talking about.

  37. JamesR says:

    The point is someone went off half cocked, someone who has no business in customer service, and ruined hundreds of customers’ days. Not only that but there’s no assurance that something similar won’t happen again, as they’re blaming their massive hateful blunder on “miscommunication.”

    As a customer I would not be made to feel assured or relieved or forgiving by this. This blaming ME for misunderstanding having my face pissed in, and a ‘sorry that it happened.’ Like serving bad food to chefs – being so socially inept and offensive to a group highly tuned to such things, makes me fear for other things I don’t know they may be doing that are just as stupid. Not fun. Their customer base is very gay and very very little right wing ‘Christian,’ and even less when you add the ‘Christians’ who go to sea to have what happens at sea stay at sea to the gay tally. These executives, whom I wonder if have ever been on one of their own cruises, have made it hard on themselves themselves.

    How and why these people entered a field of customer service is beyond the beyond. Either way it wouldn’t make me feel comfortable or relaxed enjoying a service that’s supposed to be comfortable and relaxing. Drama like this should be on the stage with the professional drag queens, not from stupid, mind-numbingly stupid, cruise directors and CEOs.

  38. Fact is, Lewis Black would be raking Carnival Cruise Lines over the coals…Next stupid question?

  39. Bj Lincoln says:

    I can see how it could offend some people in the begining but they did make it clear they messed up and are sorry. I don’t think it is asking that much for security reasons to resemble your government ID when boarding. After that it should be a free for all.

  40. Apparently, very.

  41. Why do you need an ID once you’re already on the cruise? Are straight on the cruise going to be carded when they go to lunch, want to take a walk on the promenade? And yes, on a freaking drag cruise you’d better believe that Carnival better have some normal, doable, policies in place that people can dress in drag and still be on the cruise. Because I’ve got news for – if you require people to look like their ID while in drag at an event, then no one is going to look like their ID, and thus no one is going to be permitted in drag at the event. This is a typical way that things bet outlawed in legislation – you don’t outlaw (or permit) the thing in question, because you want to hide what you’re doing, so instead you write it another way. I’m not banning people in drag, I’m simply requiring that even man dressed like a woman look like a man.

    If you were transgender, or simply someone who paid to go on a ‘drag cruise,’ you wouldn’t lighten up that they just banned the very reason you just paid hundreds of dollars, and seem to have done it for homophobic reasons.

  42. BeccaM says:

    Funny, I took a cruise once and could not recall a single time anytime I was onboard that ship that anyone asked to see my ID.

    How exactly is a terrorist supposed to get onboard after the ship is at sea anyway?

  43. The identification is for the FACE, not the clothing. Once you enter the ship, you will be able to put make-up on.

  44. The private shows should be off limits for any costume restrictions. And, if you are going to go in drag, you should have the right to walk from your cabin to the private show. I go on a private charter blues cruise every year on Holland America and we have several costume nights and parades with no restrictions. Carnival is just making it worse every time they put out a new press release. The next press release should say “All drag attire welcome – no nudity allowed in common areas”. Children have seen costumes before; what are they trying to protect the children from anyway? Sounds like religious right nut jobs at work again.

  45. Jake Orlando says:

    So people now have a right to present a piece of identification as valid even though you don’t resemble the person in the picture? And if you disagree you’re anti-gay?

    This is out of control. We need to toughen up and not be so touchy. We’re gay, not feminists or Black Panthers. We need to lighten up.

  46. JamesR says:

    How hard would it be for them to simply say “We fucked up,” and free drinks for drag queens (and kings) and lets forget it all? Seriously – the liquor bill they’d eat would be nothing to the headache of litigation and their poisoned brand.

    Obviously Homophobic, (note to AP: this is the correct usage,) employees made a MISTAKE, “We’re sorry.” ??

    Instead of the insane dig to China.

    If only a large corporation could do a simple thing a person could do, if only they really were people.

  47. Zorba says:

    Yep. My passport shows me wearing glasses, which I no longer need to wear after my cataract surgeries. So, I should purchase some kind of glasses without a prescription? Or maybe I should not ever cut or color my hair.

  48. Zorba says:

    Smells bad to me too, John. “Oh, you are very marginally acceptable, but we don’t want anyone else to know this.” Give me a f*cking break. Then don’t have a f*cking “Drag Stars at Sea” tour. As if parents with children would be lining up to go on this tour. And even so, what the hell would hurt the children about seeing men dressed up as women??? “OMG! Maybe my kids might think that this is okay!” Well, yeah, it is, and if you don’t think so, then don’t go on this cruise.
    Jeez. I think this whole thing stinks.

  49. Well, on the face of the letter they’re not permitting drag, period. I appreciate you think that they really mean sotto voce that they will allow it, but by their own words they’re not. And I gave up on the closet – and the whispered equality that came with it (“we really do accept you, but we have to whisper it so everyone else won’t hear”) – a long time ago. I really don’t agree. This smells bad.

  50. nicho says:

    So all passengers must wear the exact same clothes they have on in their photo ID? Well, that should be interesting. My photo ID was taken 11 years ago. Damned if I know where those clothes are — probably on some homeless person. And I hope no woman has changed hair color or style since her photo was taken. But, of course, this rule doesn’t apply to everyone.

    Note to Carnival: when you realize you’re in a hole, stop digging.

  51. I think you’re being too hard on them. I felt like they addressed the issue. Yes they had that little “you must look like your ID” bit, but it did not seem to me to be the point of the letter or really a serious condition to allowing people to dress in drag. To me it seemed more of a saving face measure and gives them plausible deniability to the right wing Christians or other bigots who might complain or who happen to be on their board of directors. The point of the letter was not that the ID must match, but that drag would be allowed.

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