In late 2018, the citizens of Key West elected the island’s first lesbian mayor. Teri Johnston, who previously spent eight years serving on the City Commission, is also the first openly gay woman elected mayor of a major Florida city.

Key West Mayor Teri Johnston

The popular and well-respected Teri Johnston is Key West’s first lesbian mayor.

Popular and well-respected, Johnston is a 20-year resident of Key West who came to the island from Illinois. She was interviewed recently by Towleroad, a leading news source for information on politics, gay culture, pop culture, entertainment, travel and a host of other subjects — and Towleroad has allowed us to share some excerpts from that interview with our readers.

Towleroad: What brought you to the island originally?

Mayor Johnston: What drew us initially was the weather. What kept us here was the people and the environment and the feel of Key West, because it’s like no other [place] you’ve ever been.

TR: Now, your sexuality wasn’t really a factor in the campaign.

MJ: You know, I was gay when I was a City Commissioner. It’s interesting in Key West, because I hear a lot of gay people say, “Well, [Key West] isn’t gay anymore.” Gay is everywhere! We’re residents of Key West, and Key West has a mentality — I guess the easiest term is “inclusive” — but you don’t care. Just be a good person, contribute to the community, help your neighbor and that’s what we’re looking for, not necessarily what your sexuality is, what your political beliefs are, what religion you subscribe to. It’s just “be a good person.”

TR: What are your must-see attractions when you have visitors to Key West?

MJ: Here’s the first thing you have to do, because we have so much. You have to get on the Conch Train, either the train or the trolley. That takes you through Key West and shows you everything you want to get back to. We have the second largest wood frame historical district in the United States. You’ve got to see that. We’ve got a lot of historic buildings, the Customs House, obviously Hemingway House. I would walk through the historic district.

We have wonderful theater. We have wonderful nightlife. We have some of the most famous artists and writers that you will see in the United States that call Key West home. Judy Blume, the well-known writer of children’s stories, has been here for years.

You gotta get out on the water … go flats fishing … take a sunset cruise. We have a unique Mallory Square sunset celebration where we have entertainers from all walks of life down there performing free. We have a new amphitheater … it looks out onto the water.

Florida Keys fish dinner

Fresh-caught Florida Keys fish, highly recommended by Mayor Johnston, “anchors” the island chain’s rich and wonderful cuisine. (Photo by Elmar Elfers, Florida Keys Photo Adventure)

TR: Where is your “happy place” in Key West?

MJ: My happy place is almost everywhere I go. There are good, good people in every aspect, whether it’s a restaurant or the beach or at a softball game or a Conchs football game or at a concert. It’s all happy. When we were back in Illinois, when winter hit, we were in by five o’clock. It was dark by five o’clock, it was dreary. It was too cold to go out. When we got down here what struck us was people were just getting out of their house at eleven o’clock to go eat. The streets were filled with people walking quietly, talking, stopping on someone’s front porch, having a glass of wine. It was an entirely different environment. You were alive when you come to Key West 12 months out of the year.

TR: Key West has a great food scene, but if you had to pick a favorite dish or two, what would they be?

MJ: The fish. There are so many wonderful fish spots. We have so many little neighborhood restaurants that are so good. And they are so unique. We have great fish, there’s great steakhouses, there’s Antonia’s, there’s La Te Da, there’s Seven Fish. There’s small plates from Santiago’s Bodega and 915. There is anything you could ever want.

TR: What is one thing you want to see changed in Key West?

MJ: I’d like to make sure we keep out the hatred and divisiveness that’s permeated the country. We have a very special spot here. I often say if I could put a dome over it, I would. I would like to make sure that we are maintaining this community for our children, for the future, for everybody that wants to come to the most inclusive community in the United States.

Sincere thanks to Towleroad for sharing this insightful interview.

Click here to subscribe to the Florida Keys & Key West’s LGBTQ travel blog.