Imagine a subtropical island paradise in the continental U.S. that’s described as “close to perfect but far from normal.” A sun-kissed locale where year-round temperatures average 77.8 degrees Fahrenheit.
Imagine a place where LGBTQ travelers are free to be themselves wherever they go, and rainbow flags fly proudly at homes, businesses and government buildings. A place where multi-colored fragrant flora surrounds historic residences once lived in by gay and lesbian literary icons including Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill.
Actually there’s no need to imagine that place, because it’s real — and it’s Key West.
First settled in the early 1800s, the seafaring island of Key West has been home to Caribbean pirates, shipwreck salvagers and Prohibition-era rumrunners. Playwright Williams visited and lived on the island from 1941 until his death in 1983, and helped establish the culturally rich community that still attracts writers and artists today — including current seasonal residents Edmund White and Terrence McNally.
Renowned for its live-and-let-live atmosphere, Key West consistently ranks among the top LGBTQ resort destinations worldwide.
“Key West is a very diverse and inclusive community. All are welcome here, especially the LGBTQ community from around the world,” explained Daniel Skahen, executive director of the Key West Business Guild and LGBTQ Visitor Center. “Single travelers may find a new friend, and couples are welcome to hold hands in our streets.”
Thankfully the city’s political atmosphere reflects this easygoing, free-spirited attitude. Did you know that in 1983 Key West was the first city in the U.S. to elect an openly gay mayor?
And recently the community elected its first lesbian mayor, Teri Johnston — who’s also the first openly gay woman ever to be elected mayor of a major Florida city.
The official Key West city motto, One Human Family, proclaims equality and acceptance for all people and is recognized throughout the world. Monroe County, encompassing the entire Florida Keys island chain, also adopted One Human Family as its unifying motto.
You can spot One Human Family bumper stickers on residents’ vehicles, police cars and fire trucks throughout the Keys.
“For generations Key West has been a genuinely inclusive island, where everyone is welcome to live in paradise as equals,” said J.T. Thompson, founder of the One Human Family movement. “Our official philosophy reinforces our belief that we are all created equal members of One Human Family.”
Famed Duval Street, Key West’s main thoroughfare, stretches from the Atlantic Ocean at one end to the Gulf of Mexico at the other — and includes the “Pink Triangle,” a cluster of LGBTQ bars, entertainment clubs and stores around the 700 and 800 blocks of the iconic street. The area is also home to four permanent rainbow crosswalks installed by the city in May 2015.
Not far away, you’ll find the locals’ favorite beach at Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park. It’s affectionately nicknamed Fort Liz Taylor Beach after a certain famous actress who used to stay on the island.
Just seven miles offshore lies the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, offering unparalleled diving and snorkeling. One of the best ways to experience the reef is to take a snorkel trip with Blu Q Adventures. The amazing staff will make sure you have a wonderful time out on the water.
To sum it all up, the relaxing and warmly accepting destination of Key West is a place where LGBTQ visitors and residents are free to be honest and open. It’s a place to make new lifelong friends, play from dawn to dusk, party into the wee hours or just be indulgently lazy.
And now that winter is closing in on much of the U.S., isn’t the balmy subtropical island a place you should be planning to visit (or revisit) VERY soon?
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