I have written a lot about Key West Pride over the years, providing my thoughts and maybe just a bit of “campiness.” However, sometimes it’s VERY refreshing to put the spotlight on someone else — in this case, my fellow Key Westers — and their point of view.

As we prepare to celebrate Key West Pride, what do some of our island residents feel about Pride, or about the concept of pride itself?

Key West rainbow crosswalks

Symbols of pride can be seen all around Key West, including the permanent rainbow crosswalks installed at Duval and Petronia streets. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Marvin Gifford, a local management analyst at the Florida Keys’ Monroe County Health Department, eloquently summed it up.

“Pride is a time for the trailblazers to remember and celebrate their accomplishments. It’s also a time for new LGBTQ+ (individuals) to witness that they are a part of a larger family that loves and accepts them,” he said. “For me, Pride isn’t just a party; it’s an acknowledgment of the beautiful diversity of life that exists all around us.”

Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to experience Pride celebrations all over the U.S. and around the world. Each time I depart an event, I’m usually deep in thought, processing what I bring away from it.

My favorite place to ponder life moments is generally aboard a very boring plane ride (with libation in hand, of course) during my return home. My first and final thoughts upon landing in Key West are always, “I’m so happy to be home.”

And no, I don’t click my heels beforehand (well, maybe just a little).

Jodyrae Campbell, a local actor, fabulous singer and fundraiser extraordinaire for Keys nonprofit organizations, encapsulates some of the reasons why I love living in Key West — and the reason, regardless of what remarkable places I’ve just returned from, that I breathe a sigh of relief upon landing on the island.

Fantasy Fest queen Key West

Jodyrae Campbell’s fundraising abilities earned her the title of 2015 queen of Key West’s famed Fantasy Fest celebration. (Photo by Peter Arnow)

Jodyrae stated, “Pride is the epitome of what our island stands for. My pride is not just about our Pride holiday, but also for the amazing people of Key West, both straight and gay.

“There is no other place per capita of people that do more for our island family — from the Sister Season Fund that assists with rent and utilities for service industry workers, Samuel’s House that works with families, Florida Keys Outreach Coalition that helps with the homeless and housing, AH Monroe with individuals with H.I.V., and the Community Foundation of the Florida Keys that helps their clients and elderly residents with housing,” she explained. “These are just a few [organizations] that I hold in my ‘pride heart’.”

Being proud of who you are and feeling safe in expressing it is so important to me. Although Key West will always be “close to perfect but far from normal” in my eyes, it’s always essential to take stock of where we have come from and where we are now. I think our Pride celebrations provide a perfect moment to do just that, and work on making the world a better place for everyone — not just a select few.

Daniel Holden, a nurse practitioner at Lower Keys Medical Center, reminds us to never forget our LGBTQ past, and use it positively to build a brighter future for LGBTQ youth and for future generations.

“Pride is a celebration of who we are, where we came from,” he said, chronicling  a heritage that includes both negative and positive elements including “being gay considered a mental illness, Stonewall, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ the legalization of marriage, and the barriers we continue to face.

“I’m PROUD to know my alliance of straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender friends,” Daniel summed up.

Key West will welcome visitors — old friends and those we haven’t met yet — to its annual Pride festivities Wednesday through Sunday, June 2-6.

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