LGBTQ visitors arriving in Key West have a wonderful resource to make their trip to our all-welcoming island paradise lively and memorable: the Key West Business Guild and its LGBTQ visitor center. The guild opened its doors in 1978 to support our community and promote travel to the island.

Key West Business Guild team

Kevin (at left) welcomes guests to a pre-COVID event with the guild’s Dorian Patton (Kevin’s husband) and Fritzie Estimond.

One of the oldest gay and lesbian organizations of its type in the country, the not-for-profit guild was formed by an association of local gay business leaders. They represented iconic gay and lesbian landmarks like La Te Da and Coconut Grove accommodations, the Copa and Monster clubs, and the legendary Atlantic Shores hotel.

Today the guild includes nearly 500 member businesses and provides invaluable services to Key West’s LGBTQ visitors and their allies.

I recently popped into the visitor center at 808 Duval St. and met with the guild’s executive director, Kevin Theriault. After we completed the prerequisite elbow bump and masked eye-wink “hello,” our interview began.

Keys Voices: How long have you lived in Key West, and what inspired you to make it your home?

Kevin Theriault: My husband Dorian and I have lived in Key West for seven years. Before moving, we vacationed here at least three times a year and always knew we wanted to live here. We decided to make Key West our home because of the welcoming and inclusive community. Not to mention the perfect weather!

KV: What are some aspects of the local LGBTQ community that you appreciate?

Key West Rainbow Crosswalks

Kevin (at left) and cohorts celebrate the City of Key West’s installation of permanent rainbow crosswalks on all four corners of the Duval and Petronia streets’ intersection.

KT: What is so interesting about Key West is our diversity. Even within the LGBTQ community, most of us have come from many different backgrounds — and yet, we all can live together and respect each other and celebrate our diversity.

KV: Why do you think the LGBTQ visitor center continues to be a very popular stop for visitors to Key West, even as the gay community has become more mainstream nationwide?

KT: While the LGBTQ community has become more mainstream, there are many places in the country and even internationally where being LGBTQ is still taboo. The visitor center is the perfect place for us to help put visitors at ease and let them know that they’re accepted here.

Whether they’re looking to party with friends, travel with family or get lost in the magic of our subtropical island, we want our visitors to discover how Key West’s One Human Family philosophy has created one of the most integrated and unique communities in the world.

KV: Has the COVID pandemic changed the way the guild and the visitor center currently operate?

KT: Like most businesses, we had to adapt to the challenges that the pandemic created. Masks must be worn at all times while in the visitor center, and we installed a hand sanitizing station at the entrance. We also have a partition set up to keep visitors and staff six feet apart. We already had a nightly cleaning schedule, but we have increased the sanitizing of the center throughout the day.

Key West Pride Parade

The guild’s Key West Pride celebrations, especially the  all-welcome parade, are a lively and colorful highlight of the island summer. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)

KV: What positive impacts has the guild had on the island?

KT: We have been here to promote and support our island community since 1978 — and Key West continues to be one of the leading LGBTQ destinations due to the work of the guild and the Florida Keys’ tourism council. And during the pandemic, the guild has been working closely with the city and county government to make sure the most up-to-date information is readily available to our residents and visitors.

We continue to broaden the rainbow over Key West as we work diligently to invite tourists to our unique island paradise, a place where you can always be yourself. The guild has been hosting three annual events — Key West Pride, Tropical Heat and Womenfest — to encourage tourism in the warmer summer and early fall months. And the guild worked with city officials to have four permanent rainbow crosswalks installed at Duval and Petronia streets, at the heart of the LGBTQ entertainment district.

KV: Do you have any recommendations for first-time LGBTQ visitors to Key West?

KT: My recommendation would be to come to see us at the visitor center. We’re here to help you so that your experience of Key West is one you will never forget.

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