Whoa — Key West Pride week is here and what a terrific lineup of things to see, things to do, and people to meet! When I am asked, “What is Pride like in Key West?” … I have to honestly answer that it is an embracing community-wide event.

Key West Rainbow Flag

Each year, Key West’s Pride parade features a 100-foot section of the island’s historic rainbow flag. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Some people don’t realize that our regular population is only about 25,000 — the size of a neighborhood in bigger cities. But rest assured, if you are here or chose to come down, you will be welcomed and soon feel you’re a part of a diverse community that has been described as “Close to Perfect; Far from Normal.”

Visitors can celebrate equality, applaud the dedication of a permanent rainbow crosswalk on Key West’s iconic Duval Street and attend the final rounds of a nationally renowned cocktail competition at Key West Pride 2015. Set for June 10-14, the festival salutes diversity on the subtropical island internationally known as a top gay and lesbian vacation spot.

The five-day schedule includes daytime pool and beach parties, late-night drag shows, on-the-water adventures ranging from snorkeling and kayaking to glass-bottom boat tours, a street fair, a 10k relay for tutu-wearing runners and walkers, and pageants to select Mr., Miss and Ms. Key West Pride.

Conch Train and Key West Rainbow Crosswalks

A Conch Tour Train turns at Duval and Petronia streets, giving passengers a ride “over the rainbow.” (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The festival’s focal events include the dedication of a rainbow crosswalk at the intersection of Duval and Petronia streets, the heart of Key West’s LGBT entertainment district.

Co-sponsored by the City of Key West and the Key West Business Guild, the rainbow crosswalk is imprinted permanently on the pavement connecting all four corners of the intersection. The dedication is scheduled for noon Saturday, June 13, during the Key West Pride Street Fair.

Other Pride highlights include the 2015 Stoli Original Cocktail Challenge’s Wednesday night kick-off gala, Friday night run-offs and Saturday night final round. The contest features regional winners from LGBT bars in 14 North American cities, all competing to create an original Key West cocktail that communicates the island’s creativity and spirit.

Key West cocktail contest

Sean Fitzpatrick shows his enthusiasm as he creates the winning concoction during Stoli’s 2014 Key West cocktail competition. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The final round is set for 7-10 p.m. Saturday on an open-air stage in the 700 block of Duval Street.

Eight finalists are to concoct their libations for a judging panel that includes Broadway actor and former “Queer Eye” television personality Jai Rodriguez, Emmy Award-winning comedy writer and actor Bruce Vilanch, clothing designer Andrew Christian, actress and singer Latoya London and famed Key West female impersonator “Sushi.”

The winner becomes the honorary grand marshal of the 2015 Pride Parade alongside celebrity grand marshals Rodriguez and Christian. The all-welcome procession, featuring a 100-foot section of Key West’s famed sea-to-sea rainbow flag, begins at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 14, and proceeds up Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.

Blog writer Steve Smith really sinks his teeth into Key West's activities and attractions!

Blogger Steve Smith wants to see you in Key West!

Following the parade, the grand marshals are to entertain attendees at a Sunday night showcase at the historic San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval St.

I hope to see you at one of the great events during our Pride festival — or later this year on our welcoming island.

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