June has arrived in Key West, and the island is abuzz with anticipation for our 2021 Pride festivities after last year’s cancelation due to COVID-19. Planned revelries during the June 2-6 celebration range from drag brunches and pool parties to Tea Dances on land and sea.

Signs of pride can be seen all around Key West, like the permanent rainbow crosswalks on the island’s Duval Street. (Photo courtesy of the Key West Business Guild)

Our local businesses and residents seem to be displaying their Pride flags even more than usual. And of course our City Hall grounds and city commission chambers permanently (and proudly, I might add) display the gay flag.

However, for Florida Keys & Key West residents, pride in our compassionate LGBTQ community and its allies isn’t only apparent during a single event held in June. Instead, it’s a year-round state of mind.

Our residents take pride in continually finding ways to ensure the well-being of friends and neighbors, with an incredible number of fundraisers and local nonprofits dedicated to assisting those in need.

One such organization, the Sister Season Fund, operates according to a motto that says it all: “Locals helping locals, here to help when you need it most.” The organization provides financial assistance to hospitality/tourism-related industry employees temporarily out of work due to illness, accident or a natural disaster.

I asked Julie Hanson, executive director of the Sister Season Fund, her thoughts on Pride.

Julie Hanson, shown here smiling with friends, believes pride is about caring and celebrating with special people.

“My feeling about Pridefest is that  PRIDE is the key word,” she said, “It is great that we set aside time to show how we all feel about ourselves — no matter what. To me, it is all about caring for one another and celebrating with the people you love and respect.

While Key West  won’t have its traditional Pride parade this year, the Pride Street Fair will still take place Saturday, June 5 — as will the “Rainbow is my Favorite Color” dance party at the Aquaplex.

If you make it to the Aquaplex or Bourbon St. Pub, please say hello to bartender extraordinaire Myrica Joslin, who admitted Pride week is her favorite time of year.

“I have a lot of pride in my work ethic, and Pride week means I get to use my strengths as a bartender for an amazing group of visitors and locals,” she explained, adding that she anticipated showing off her rainbow gear, tutus and “a truly obnoxious amount of glitter” while working.

But for Myrica as for many of us, “pride” also has a more elemental meaning.

Key West bartender

Myrica Joslin celebrates Pride with glitter — and gratitude for her home in Key West.

“I haven’t the words to describe how truly proud I am to call Key West my home — and this amazing LGBTQ community has become my family,” she said.

When attending our monthly Key West Business Guild mixers, I always have wonderful conversations with two of my all-time favorite people, Edie Hambright and Julia Davis.

When I asked for their reflections on Pride (as an event or a concept), the self-described “same-sex married female senior couple,” who met in 1994, provided a heartfelt and heartwarming response.

“We experienced great difficulty living in a very homophobic, discriminating environment with stressful, emotional impact during the first five years of our relationship (in a rural part of the eastern U.S.) — always living with fear, anxiety, and little support in a deep-deep gay closet,” they explained. “We discovered Key West, as many have, on an escape vacation in September 1996. For the first time, we experienced acceptance, freedom and celebration of us as a loving LGBT couple.”

Edie and Julia relocated to Key West in July 1999 and quickly fell in love with the unique community, “feeling embraced and loved back by both LGBTQ and straight folks.”

Key West women pride

Edie Hambright (left) and Julia Davis felt accepted and embraced when they moved to Key West — and continue to work for inclusiveness for all in a longterm display of pride.

Their community involvement included participating in the envisioning and creation of Equality Florida with other locals in a Key West living room, and taking part in the 2003 unfurling of Gilbert Baker’s 1.25-mile sea-to-sea rainbow flag along Duval Street.

Active supporters of the fight for same-sex marriage rights, they were legally married in March 2014 at an LGBTQ Expo in New York City.

“We engage day-to-day in our small ways to work toward a more loving, inclusive Key West community for all. Our hearts and our love are the same, together empowered as one. That is Key West PRIDE to us!” Edie and Julia summed up.

I wish everyone a fabulous 2021 Pride and hope to see you soon in the Florida Keys. To check out our full Pride schedule, please click here.

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