This “rainbow” Florida Key is especially welcoming to LGBT families, who will find many child-friendly places and things to do within a very accepting community of fellow travelers.
The character and characters of Key West areas colorful as the rainbow flags flying on many a business door, welcoming gay tourists and their families to the community. “Key West is one of the original gay and lesbian destinations; it has remained popular in part because it is such an overwhelmingly accepting place,” explains Carol Shaughnessy, writer and media relations representative for the Florida Keys and Key West Tourist Development Council.
The official motto adopted by the city commission in 2000, is ‘One Human Family‘ to express the accepting nature of Key West toward all people.” So, where in some places a gay couple might find it difficult to walk hand in hand, that is definitely not the case in Key West. A family with two moms or two dads would be regarded as a family,” notes Ms. Shaughnessy,”the boundaries sadly enough drawn in other places are not drawn here.”
In fact, it is so welcoming that actress Rosie O’ Donnell has counted Key West – which is only 90 miles west of Cuba and 152 miles from Miami –as a past favorite port for the gay family cruises she organized through R Family Vacations (866/732-6822), a company she co-owns with life-partner Kelli Carpenter.
Indicative of the community’s spirit: during the Key West’s 2003 PrideFest festivities, a 1¼-mile-long rainbow flag –the longest ever made and sewn by the flag’s creator, Gilbert Baker, to celebrate the flag’s 25th anniversary –was draped across the city’s main drag. It covered Duval Street from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. Sections of the flag have appeared in subsequent PrideFest parades and in celebrations throughout the USA and Europe.
Key West’s gay history is rich; since the early 40s, the community has been a Mecca for talented gays including writer Tennessee Williams and Broadway composer Jerry Herman. In fact, many of the historical Victorian homes owe their restoration to the community. Every Saturday morning at 11 am, families can hop on the Old Town Trolley (201 Front Street, Suite 224, Key West 33040 800/868-7482) for a 70-minute trolley tour showcasing gay history and attractions.
An Array of Colorful Attractions
An attraction not to be missed is Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory (1316 Duval Street, Key West 33040, 305/296-2988), founded by artist Sam Trophia and his life-partner George Fernandez. Suitable for all ages,the conservatory is 13,000-square-feet, with a 5,000-square-foot, glass-domed tropical butterfly habitat housing more than 1,000 of these colorful creatures from close to 50 species.
There is always something for the whole family to do in Key West. Museums include the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum (200 Greene Street Key West 33040, 305/294-2633) housing the richest single collection of 17th century maritime and shipwreck antiquities in the Western Hemisphere. Key West was a salvager’s paradise in the 1850s, causing it to be the wealthiest place to live at that time.
Other attractions dedicated to the sea include the Key West Shipwreck Historeum Museum (1 Whitehead Street Key West 33040, 305/292-8990), where actors reenact life at a wrecker’s warehouse in 1856. The latest addition is Pirate Soul (524 Front St, Key West 33040, 305/292-1113), owned by television motivational speaker Pat Croce and chock full of authentic pirate artifacts to thrill younger children.
A Rich, Colorful Heritage
Key West was novelist Earnest Hemingway’s home with his second wife Pauline in the 1930’s before he left for Cuba with Martha – wife number three. The Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum (907 Whitehead Street, Key West 33040, 305/295-9112), where the couple once lived is now a museum. Those with cat allergies be forewarned that there are 50 felines on property all claiming to be descendants of cats owned by Hemingway himself.
The Key West Art & History Museum (281 Front Street, Key West 33040, 305-295-6616 ) at Custom House always has a Hemingway display and, at our visit, featured a bronze bust of the celebrated author, affectionately known as Papa. So celebrated, in fact, that Key West holds an annual festival called Hemingway Days that includes a Papa Hemingway look-alike contest. The festival also hosts the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition, named and orchestrated by his granddaughter Lorian, an accomplished Pulitzer Prize-nominated author and journalist.
Many of Key West’s artisans sell their wares at the Mallory Square and Sunset Celebration (305/292-7700). At this spontaneous, PG-rated event,there’s a carnival atmosphere with plenty of performance artists. Typically, families will catch one of the three Historic Ships of America fleet passing by on a “sunset cruise.
The city’s accommodations, ranging from hotels and motels to quaint resort properties and guest houses, are most welcoming to the gay community. However, some of these properties do not cater to children or are gender-specific. Gay-owned properties of note include Key Lime Inn Historic Lodging (725 Truman Ave, Key West 33040, 800/549-4430).
Fun dining opportunities abound, so you need to come to Key West with an appetite. If your children appreciate gourmet dining, then check out gay-friendly hot spots Square One (1075 Duval Street in Duval Square, Key West 33040, 305/296-4300) and Alice’s Key West (1114 Duval Street Key West 33040, 305/292-5733), where James Beard Foundation-recognized chef, Alice Weingarten, whips up her culinary magic.
For more information on activities and lodging, visit Florida Keys Tourism or call 800-FLA-KEYS.
[Photos by Kathryn Kates]
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