All play, no drama

Get into the groove: Key West reigns supreme in carefree gayness

A crowd leisuring at the beach in Key West.

Key West dangles from Florida like a gorgeous appendage offering gay indulgence despite a hetero body. Miami and Fort Lauderdale might argue otherwise, but historically, the bohemian city was the first to stake the Pride flag no matter who it alienated.

Slather yourself with sunscreen and follow Queerty to the southern tip of the US, where the real world is left in the rearview mirror, and everyone becomes ‘one human family.’

An IDGAF attitude liberated Key West

A street of tropical houses in Key West.

The geography of the Keys has safeguarded its relaxed and carefree culture, with dozens of tropical islands connected to South Miami first by the aptly named Seven Mile Bridge and then 41 shorter bridges. 

Of course, you can fly here, but Floridians appreciate the scenic drive merging into the tropics, transporting your state of mind from urban to Caribbean living. Arriving, you’ll notice the roads are governed by bicycles, and clothing becomes an afterthought.

A bridge on the ocean.

There’s a reason 250,000 LGBTQ+ travelers specifically vacation in Key West yearly. There’s an unmistakable laissez-faire spirit that shapes the social law of the land. Simply put, you do you, honey – and whoever you want.

Yes, many conchos (locals) embrace a leather pigmentation, but they’re too busy catching sun to mind your business. Don’t fret for attention, though! You’ll find plenty of gays with wandering eyes at Smathers Beach (keep in mind it’s unofficially nude-friendly but still against the law).

The birth of queer visibility in the Florida Keys 

A group of people carrying the Pride Flag in Key West.

As seen with resort towns like Fire Island and Palm Springs, past generations of gays gravitated towards Key West because it was an out-of-the-way, unbeknownst destination that beckoned with potential. Gay authors like Tennessee Williams, Elizabeth Bishop, and James Merrill led the pack​​ in the 1940s and spread the word of the live-and-let-live vibes with their art. 

It wasn’t until 1967 that a concho David Wolkowsky built the first real resort on the island, the Pier House, located on Zero Duval Street. The 1970s rolled in with Key West boasting 30 same-sex guest houses catering to gay men. 

During this time, metropolitan cities crevice with gay culture, but you had to be in the know to find it. Key West wasn’t afraid to tell you where and became the first American city to advertise pink tourism. 

In 2003, the city decided to make history for Pride and mobilized 2,000 volunteers to carry a 1.25-mile-long Sea-to-Sea Diversity Flag, stretching the longest-running rainbow across the entirety of Duval Street. The community bridged the gap between the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean with queer love. 

Key West also adopted the “One Human Family” slogan to cement its inclusivity.

Duval Street continues to flourish with gayness, rocking 4 rainbow crosswalks at the intersection with Petronia Street. Today you’ll find five gay and lesbian bars. However, the rainbow decorates the small island’s cobbled streets. You can bet the Victorian homes have been renovated for the fabulosity of the 21st Century.

Come for vibes; stay for the nudity, drag, sunsets, and marine tourism

A white man's face biting on a strawberry.

Despite the lewdness of “Don’t Say Gay” and other homophobic bills happening across the state, Florida will feel like a distant draconian dystopia when you’re sunbathing in Key West.

Nakedness is casual, drag is for everyone. If you want to be controversial, your liberal propaganda won’t raise eyebrows. The attitudes truly change with latitude, and mellowness flows through the air like a breeze.

A close up of a muscly black man laying on a towel on the beach.

We know the gays need a little scandal, and you can look for it in libidinous men-only resorts and pool parties.

Boners aside, you won’t forget experiencing the sunset here. Locals and visitors make an event of it daily to appreciate hues of orange, red, and pink dance into the night.

Lastly, don’t be a noob and think you’re too gay to enjoy the scuba diving adventure of a lifetime, exploring the coral reef, marine life, sea canyons, historic shipwrecks, and sunken submarines.

But wait, there’s more

Thought we were done with all the fun? Our friends at Visit Florida helped us fill your calendar year-round.

Care for a peek at Key West’s gay scene?

And, of course, the best part about Key West will be immersing yourself in gay culture.

Conchos are not the only people who play well with others

Dive in, hon, the gays don’t bite unless you ask

The only attitude you’ll find in Key West

More drag, more boys, more fun

Why so serious? Key West is still here, and queer

Shadows of people watching a sunset in Key West.

The secret has been out on the no-frills culture of Key West, which has brought an influx of heterosexuality seeking that same reprieve, and the NY Times even questioned in 2005 if Key West was going straight.

The estimated 1,700 self-identifying LGBTQ+ residents living here will tell you otherwise (in 2021, the total population was reported to be around 26,527). Homosexuality has never been the majority voice in a room, but we’ll always be the loudest – and most accepting.

Regardless, you won’t find many cities that advertise unadulterated clothing-optional fun for queer tourists. Seriously, it’s in the pamphlets!

So relax and take it easy… you’re about to join the (human) family.

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