Where rainbow flags fly proudly at public buildings, businesses and homes — and even beside the American flag outside City Hall.
Where about 300,000 annual LGBTQ visitors are “free to be” themselves wherever they go.
That inclusive 2-by-4-square-mile paradise is Key West, at the tip of the Florida Keys island chain.
“Key West has such unique, distinctive natural beauty and pleasant tropical weather,” said Guy Ross, LGBTQ sales manager for the Florida Keys tourism council. “LGBTQ visitors have known for a very long time that this little island offers a safe haven from mainstream judgment.”
Key West’s diverse atmosphere reflects an easygoing, relaxed attitude of acceptance.
“Single travelers may find a new friend. Couples are welcome to hold hands in our streets,” said Daniel Skahen, executive director of the Key West Business Guild and its LGBTQ Visitor Center.
In 1983, Key West became the United States’ first city to elect an openly gay mayor. Today Teri Johnston reigns over the island as the first openly gay woman elected mayor of a major Florida city.
“I’m proud to shine a light on our LGBT community,” Johnston said during her November 2018 inauguration speech.
The official city motto for Key West, and for Monroe County that governs the entire Florida Keys, is One Human Family, proclaiming equality for all.
“Key West is where everyone is welcome to live in paradise as equals,” said J.T. Thompson, founder of the One Human Family movement.
Since its settlement in the early 1800s, Key West has lured independent renegades and rebels, ranging from early Caribbean pirates to Prohibition-era rumrunners. With more than 3,000 carefully preserved wooden structures, the Old Town historic district is widely appealing to architecture and design aficionados.
Key West’s main thoroughfare, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, is Duval Street. It’s lined with fine art and photography galleries, tropical boutiques, eclectic shops and restaurants known for fresh “dock-to-dish” seafood.
The famed “Pink Triangle,” centered around the 700 and 800 blocks of Duval, is home to an entertainment cluster of LGBTQ bars, clubs and shops. The area also contains four colorful rainbow crosswalks.
Key West offers several beaches, including locals’ favorite “Fort Liz Taylor Beach,” so dubbed by gay fans of the actress who frequented Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park’s beach with her husband, actor Richard Burton.
City-operated Higgs Beach, beside historic West Martello Tower, is recognized as one of the world’s 11 best gay beaches by gaycities.com.
Just 7 miles offshore lies the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, offering diving and snorkeling in clean aquamarine waters.
LGBTQ visitors to Key West can honestly and openly feel “free to be” themselves — to make new lifelong friends, play from dawn to dusk, party into the wee morning hours or simply relax and savor the island experience.
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/gay, fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Gay Key West Visitor Center: gaykeywestfl.com, 305-294-4603 or 1-800-535-7797
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