Irresistible Key West: Uniquely ‘Free to Be’
Imagine a subtropical island in the continental United States with a free-spirited, live-and-let-live atmosphere that’s also warmly exotic, eccentric and enticing.
Where rainbow flags fly proudly at public buildings, businesses and homes — even beside the American flag outside City Hall.
Where more than 250,000 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 is truly unique in its distinctly natural and quirky beauty and refreshing tropical weather,” said Pony Charvet, LGBTQ sales manager for the Florida Keys tourism council. “LGBTQ guests visiting have known for a long time that this island paradise offers a sanctuary 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 Kevin Theriault, executive director of the Key West Business Guild and its LGBTQ Visitor Center. “Key West continues to be an all-inclusive destination for our LGBTQ visitors — you can always be who you are openly.”
In 1983, Key West became the United States’ first city to elect an openly gay mayor. In 2018 Teri Johnston became the first openly gay woman elected mayor of a major Florida city, and she continues to reign over the island after earning a second term in 2020.
The official city motto for Key West, and for Monroe County governing 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, has been 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 clear 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.
Gay Key West Visitor Center: gaykeywestfl.com, 305-294-4603 or 1-800-535-7797
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/gay, fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
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