Walking down Key West’s Duval Street these days, you can hear visitors speaking French, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Scandinavian, Chinese, Japanese and even English flavored with that recognizable British accent.
The island is alive with vacationers from across the world.
LGBT visitors have been welcomed and assisted by the Key West Business Guild for more than 35 years. They can pick up passes and get discounts at local businesses by stopping by the Gay and Lesbian Visitor Center at 513 Truman Ave. Open seven days a week, the center has staff that can answer virtually any question imaginable, provide maps and impart information about accommodations, attractions, restaurants, art galleries and the ever-popular nightlife.
As you might expect during such a lively time, our theaters are offering a variety of shows to entertain and amuse audiences. The Waterfront Playhouse at Mallory Square is staging “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” nominated for eight Tony Awards including Best Musical.
Watching the production, you’ll become part of a group of prepubescent overachievers pitted against each other in a spelling challenge. (In fact, the New York Times called the play “in essence ‘A Chorus Line’ with pimples.”
A few blocks away, in the 300 block of Duval Street, catch the Red Barn Theatre’s production of “Match” — starring Key West’s talented, incomparable and always hysterical Tom Luna portraying an eccentric and endearing dancer, choreographer and teacher. (Bring tissues, because you’ll laugh till your eyes run with tears of joy.)
We will soon be celebrating the 30th birthday of our beloved Conch Republic with a rollicking festival. Almost 30 years ago, the U.S. Border patrol erected a surprise roadblock at the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway, ostensibly searching for aliens and illegal drugs. The barrier created a 10-mile-long traffic jam and delays for visitors (and us residents) leaving the Keys.
Spirited Key Westers were not afraid to stand up to “a government gone mad with power.” They protested by forming a new “independent nation” named the Conch Republic, seceding from and then declaring war on the United States, promptly surrendering and applying for millions in foreign aid. News of the offbeat revolt was heard around the world and shortly afterward the roadblock faded away.
The Conch Republic Independence Celebration begins April 20 with the Raising of the Colors at Fort Zachary Taylor (we lovingly refer to it as Fort Elizabeth Taylor) and a fun-filled kickoff party at the Schooner Wharf Bar in Key West’s Historic Seaport.
The gay community presents its biggest festival event the following day, rocking the streets with the “Great Conch Republic Drag Race.” Benefiting a local charity, it’s hosted by our Bourbon Street entertainment complex and takes place in the 700 and 800 blocks of Duval Street.
I’m sure you’ve seen drag queens before, but you haven’t seen anything like these races. The “pits” open at 1 p.m., and the wacky footrace follows — with competitors required to wear their highest heels! Bring your camera, because your friends won’t believe your stories about this kewl event without photographic evidence.
I hope to see you there!