Many of my previous blogs have focused on the Florida Keys & Key West as a premier LGBTQ travel destination. One of our islands’ greatest attributes is our stellar LGBTQ community, and I would like to introduce you to some of its members. So this is the first in a series of blogs focusing on the extraordinary residents that exemplify our “One Human Family” philosophy.
I recently interviewed Daniel Skahen, the executive director of the renowned Key West Business Guild. A longtime resident of Key West, Daniel also works as a broker associate for Preferred Properties Coastal Realty. In addition, he fought successfully to make gay adoption legal in Florida. In his “free time,” he can be spotted welcoming travelers at the island’s LGBTQ Visitor Center at 808 Duval St.
Daniel Skahen: I’m from Wisconsin and moved to Florida in 1992, making my way down to Key West in 1993. Like most who have made Key West their home, I fell in love with the beauty of the island on my first visit. Even today, I often walk through town and am awed by the beauty. Also, coming from Wisconsin, the weather was a big draw.
KV: What are some aspects of the LGBTQ community here in Key West that you appreciate?
DS: The openness and inclusion of the LGBTQ community are what I enjoy the most about living in Key West. I enjoy seeing a same-sex couple holding hands walking down the street — something they may not be able to do in their hometowns. The “small city” feel, which brings such a diverse community, is a welcome aspect. Almost everywhere I go, I run into someone I know. I like that.
KV: Can you explain a little bit about your court battle challenging the previous Florida ban on gay adoption?
DS: We started the fight for gay adoption in 1999. We fought for the right to adopt for over 10 years. Our case was filed in Federal Court; we wanted to make gay adoption a national law. Unfortunately, we did not succeed. Shortly after the conclusion of our case, it was refiled in state court; it was this lawsuit which prevailed, making gay adoption legal in the State of Florida. Once the law was enacted, we were the first to adopt in the state.
KV: What are some of your favorite memories of raising your children in the Florida Keys?
DS: I had over 30 foster children in my home during a 10-year period. I recently started to get friend requests on Facebook from some of the children I took care of. Even though the average age of the children was 7 or 8, they still remember being in my home. Two of the children were not placed, so we decided to keep them — eventually adopting them.
Both children came to us when they were 2 years old. They are currently 21 and 22. Raising them in such an open community has molded them into very tolerant and nonjudgemental young gentlemen. When your children are 10 years old and stop to talk to a drag queen on Duval Street whom they know by name — well, I think this is pretty special.
KV: Do you have any recommendations for first-time LGBTQ visitors to Key West?
DS: So much to do and see! Once you’ve visited all our small businesses and museums on or near Duval Street, take a walk into the neighborhood and enjoy the foliage and architecture. I promise you will feel the sense of community I felt on my first visit to the island some 25 years ago.
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