Father Tony

One Human Family - It Works In Key West

Filed By Father Tony | November 01, 2009 2:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Entertainment
Tags: gay tourists, inclusive communities, Key West

The "Official Philosophy" of one human family.JPGKey West is written in tile near the Aids Memorial on the beach at the end of Duval Street. Among the locals ("conchs"), this way of life is more than just a marketing effort.

Having lived in or visited most of the well-known gay/diverse/inclusive communities in the western world, I was surprised by the unique quality of life in Key West.

The 27th annual Headdress Ball, in the following photos, is a good example of what happens in Key West where a man in a dress might easily be straight and on the arm of his wife and having a drink with his gay neighbor at a fund raiser emceed by personalities of indeterminate gender or orientation. This kind of mix is not unusual, but the unique element is the fact that the locals don't seem to be working at toleration. They seem actually to like each other and seem to be embracing and prizing their differences.

This isn't a show for the tourists. As a guest of the Key West Business Guild, I got an inside look at how the residents interact at events held primarily for themselves. I honestly had trouble guessing who was straight, gay, in drag, married, single, etc. The locals seem to have achieved a blended sexual/social fluidity with one unified purpose: distinctions and definitions that plague the rest of us are meaningless and worthless on Key West and should be subjugated to the business of enjoying life and celebrating each other. They make it look effortless. The heterosexual "conchs" of Key West could teach much to their counterparts in other communities. They neither fear nor dread nor begrudge the "gay". One human family.

Following the photos is a video in which Steve Smith of the Key West Business Guild and two former queens of the annual Fantasy Fest explain it all.

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

It wasn't always that way. I was the first treasurer of the Key West Business Guild. In 1983 the then pastor, Morris Wright, of the 5th Street Baptist church on Stock Island made headlines in the Key West Citizen by ranting in a Sunday sermon that when he was younger, all that was needed to clean the gays from the streets were "a few good men with baseball bats".
Shortly after that time, a few gay-friendly city councilmen and women were elected, and then the much beloved gay major, Richard Hyman.
Downtown, gay bashing became a weekend sport for the macho, hetero, religious boys. So much so that the problem was featured on a Today Show segment, causing my mother to phone and ask if I was OK.
But, my luck ran out. Walking home from the victory party, after the surprising election of City Councilwoman, Emma Cates, I was attacked two blocks from my home - not with a baseball bat, but with an iron pipe. I was shipped to Miami and eventually underwent two brain operations and lost almost ten years of my life while attempting to put it back together. I moved to Mexico where the natives were friendlier and where I still live. I've never looked back, and have not been back to Key West.
The passage and signing of the hate crimes bill this past week meant a lot to me, such much so that I flew from Mexico to Washington for the two days of the National Equality March and marched with all those thousands of very young an idealistic young people.
I'm happy to know that things have changed in Key West.

Dear Roger,
Thanks deeply for telling us your story and for helping to make the Key West community what it is today. I'm sure there are still many problems to be solved there, and I hope I have not painted too rosy a picture. I'l be sending this on to Steve Smith of the Business Guild in case he misses it.

Key West may not always have been as amazing as it is now, but I do agree wholehertedly that these days, there is no place like it.

I confess to bias, though -- in all my travels, there has never been a place as totally encompassing and utterly free as Key West, and not merely in the tourista areas often crowded, but throughout the Island.

And it stands as a shining moment of welcome for me, personally, in a personal journey.

Hi Tony...Here is an excerpt from a Stonewall nostalgia booklet we produced for OneDaytona's pride festival this past June:
"Another area resident who missed Stonewall became a pioneer of gay pride in Key West 20 years later. Kitty Thompson of Oak Hill said she grew disgusted in 1989 when gay businessmen in Key West decided it would be too risky for them to sponsor a pride parade. 'They thought it would hurt their businesses,' she said. So Kitty wrote a letter to the local newspaper challenging people to join her in her own impromptu gay pride parade the night of June 27, 1989. Kitty and her daughter began the march with a pride banner and picked up more supporters as they moved along. By the end of the march, they had more than 150 people in their band and gay pride was firmly established in Key West. 'I am proud of all the men and women that have stood up in groups or all alone, one at a time, and said 'I am gay and I am proud,' Kitty wrote. 'They made the path easier for all of us that follow.' "

Jerame has raved about Key West since we met (he'd gone on vacation there the year prior). He's incredibly jealous that you got to go, Tony. :)