There’s a wonderfully meaningful celebration coming up in Key West, and everyone who values equality, openness and diversity is invited to participate.
It’s the 20th “birthday” of the island’s famed 1.25-mile sea-to-sea rainbow flag, and it will be marked with a three-night laser light show during Key West Pride 2023 — scheduled Wednesday through Sunday, June 7-11.
Gilbert Baker savors the moment as his 1.25-mile rainbow flag is unfurled down Key West’s Duval Street. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)
Presented by the Key West Business Guild, Pride salutes the Florida Keys’ all-accepting “One Human Family” mindset in the subtropical spot that’s internationally known as a top LGBTQ vacation mecca.
Attractions include daytime pool parties and late-night dance parties, sunset sailing excursions, theater performances, a street fair, a high-energy parade and other events commemorating the creation and display of the sea-to-sea flag that became known around the globe.
Constructed in 2003 and unfurled along the nearly 1.25-mile length of Key West’s Duval Street, which stretches between the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, that flag was believed to be the world’s longest.
But in addition to its astonishing length, it had another equally important claim to fame. It was sewn in Key West by Gilbert Baker, the San Francisco artist who created the original rainbow flag in 1978, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his internationally recognized LGBTQ banner’s unveiling.
To construct the Key West flag, Gilbert (whose friends called him “the gay Betsy Ross”) spent three months on the island. He and a handful of dedicated volunteers sewed approximately 17,600 linear yards of fabric — no easy feat since that fabric weighed more than three tons!
As well as honoring the rainbow flag’s birth, the Key West flag recreated Gilbert’s original eight-color design. Pink and turquoise, which couldn’t be reproduced commercially in 1978, were sewn into the mammoth banner along with the now-traditional red, orange, yellow, green, indigo and violet.
Key West’s Pride festivities will be capped with a parade featuring a 100-foot section of the island’s iconic sea-to-sea rainbow flag. (Photo courtesy of the Key West Business Guild)
Those of us who were lucky enough to witness the flag’s debut, the highlight of Pride 2003 on the island, will treasure the memory forever.
It took more than 2,000 volunteers to unfurl the flag from one end of Duval Street to the other. The crowd that gathered to help and watch included gay and straight couples, people of widely varying colors and ages, families with children, and even people in wheelchairs.
Once the rainbow banner completely blanketed the street, the crowd chanted “Gilbert, Gilbert” as Gilbert Baker dipped one end into the Gulf of Mexico. Meanwhile, Pride organizers and community leaders dipped the other end into the Atlantic — making the flag a sea-to-sea representation of Key West’s pride and diversity.
Gilbert Baker passed away in 2017, but it’s only fitting that the 20th “birthday” of his sea-to-sea flag be commemorated on the island where it was born.
The all-welcome parade is a lively and colorful highlight of each year’s Pride celebration. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)
Pride 2023’s opening activities Wednesday, June 7, include a luncheon with presentations on the creation of the iconic flag and a 5:30 p.m. kick-off party featuring the display of a 100-foot section of the famed banner.
But the festivities’ undisputed highlight is to be a three-night laser light show that recreates the flag above Duval Street, with its eight colors once again stretching the length of the street. From 8 to 10 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, visitors can walk “under the rainbow” to express their support for diversity, equality and acceptance.
Plans call for the 100-foot section of the 2003 flag to take center stage in the 2023 Pride Parade through Key West’s historic downtown. The fun begins at 5 p.m. Sunday, June 11 — and spectators can view the all-welcome procession, also featuring colorful walking groups and lavishly decorated floats, either streetside or from clubs, bars and restaurants along the route.
Pride’s closing ceremony will take place after the parade at the corner of Duval and Petronia streets — site of the island’s permanent four-way rainbow crosswalk — capped by the final night of the sea-to-sea laser light show.
To find out more about Pride 2023, and get full schedule of commemorative events so you don’t miss a moment, just click here.