With Pride Month in full swing and WorldPride under way in New York City, it’s a great time to remember why Key West — one of the first popular gay vacation meccas — remains a leading hotspot that draws nearly 300,000 gay and lesbian visitors every year.

Gilbert Baker Key West rainbow flag

A section of Gilbert Baker’s iconic 1.25-mile-long Key West rainbow flag will be carried in WorldPride’s Pride March. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

One of the biggest reasons is that LGBTQ personalities, influences and events have played a huge role in Key West’s modern-day history. For example …

1941: Tennessee Williams first visits Key West. He subsequently buys a house and lives there until his death in 1983, helping shape the literary and cultural community that still flourishes. A museum and annual festival celebrate his Key West connection.

1941: Leonard Bernstein writes his first published piece of music, “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano,” during his initial visit to Key West. He also begins a ballet titled “Conch Town.” Bernstein continues spending significant time on the island throughout his life.

1978: Key West Business Guild is established to support the LGBTQ community and encourage tourism. One of North America’s oldest gay and lesbian destination marketing organizations, it helps Key West become and remain a world-renowned LGBTQ vacation spot.

1983: Richard Heyman is elected mayor of Key West, becoming the United States’ first openly gay mayor. His legacy remains both in politics and in the Gingerbread Square Gallery he founded in 1974.

1996: The Red Shoe Drop (a.k.a. Drag Queen Drop) debuts on New Year’s Eve at the New Orleans House complex on Duval Street. Drag queen Sushi, perched in a super-sized red high-heel shoe, is lowered from the balcony at midnight, spoofing New York’s Times Square “ball drop.” CNN has featured the event many times on its national New Year’s Eve broadcast.

1997: The Key West AIDS Memorial overlooking the Atlantic Ocean is completed. Believed to be world’s only official municipal monument of its kind, it’s inscribed with the names of over 1,000 men and women who died of AIDS.

2000: One Human Family is unanimously adopted by the Key West City Commission as the city’s official philosophy — and later is adopted for the entire Florida Keys. Local designer J.T. Thompson began the One Human Family movement by printing bumper stickers that read, “All people are created equal members of ONE HUMAN FAMILY.”

JT One Human Family

In 2000, Key West artist J.T. Thompson created the “One Human Family” initiative that is spreading around the world. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

2003: A 1.25-mile-long rainbow flag is unfurled along the length of Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean during Key West’s 2003 Pride celebration. The banner was constructed on the island by Gilbert Baker, who created the original rainbow flag, to mark its 25th anniversary. Sections of the Key West flag have been displayed at Pride events worldwide.

2015: The Florida Keys’ first same-sex wedding is performed Jan. 6, moments after marriage equality begins in Florida. The ceremony unites Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who won a lawsuit to overturn Florida’s same-sex marriage ban.

2015: Four permanent rainbow crosswalks are installed by the City of Key West at the intersection of Duval and Petronia streets — the heart of the LGBTQ entertainment district.

 2018: Key West’s first lesbian mayor is elected. Teri Johnston, a former city commissioner, is the first openly gay woman elected mayor of a major Florida city.

That’s a pretty significant roster of milestones, isn’t it?

Conch Republic Rainbow Flag

Stop by the Florida Keys booth at WorldPride’s street festival to get your own rainbow flag saluting the Keys’ alter ego, the Conch Republic.

By the way, look for the Florida Keys’ LGBTQ blogger Greg Tromba at New York City’s PrideFest street festival during the WorldPride/Stonewall 50 celebrations. The festival is set for 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, June 30, along Fourth Avenue from Union Square to Astor Place.

The Florida Keys & Key West booth will have lots of great giveaways and information on vacationing in the unforgettable island chain.

Please stop by for a warm Keys welcome and insights into the destination’s newest elements, attractions and offerings. (Plus Greg will be bearing gifts).

Also, if you’re attending the Pride March, don’t miss the Keys contingent — carrying a 100-foot section of the iconic 1.25-mile “sea-to-sea” rainbow flag.

Click here to subscribe to the Florida Keys & Key West’s LGBTQ travel blog.