Keys Districts

Get Creative in the Keys!

Carol Shaughnessy | January 2015

If you’re a creative spirit visiting (or about to visit) the Florida Keys, a dilemma awaits you: choosing which experience to immerse yourself in first. That’s because opportunities abound around the island chain for those eager to explore their own potential — and discover others’ artistry.

Morada Way Clay is a center for classes and exploration of creative work in clay. (Photo courtesy of Morada Way Clay)

Morada Way Clay is a center for classes and exploration of creative work in clay. (Photo courtesy of Morada Way Clay)

A comprehensive listing of events, from gallery openings to concerts to classes, can be found on the cultural calendar at www.keysarts.com. But just to whet your appetite, a few highlight offerings are outlined here.

For example, are you an aspiring potter? Then consider learning (and practicing) your craft at Islamorada’s Morada Way Clay, located at mile marker (MM) 81.5 oceanside.

The fine art gallery and ceramics studio features multi-session clay classes, single-day workshops, open-studio experiences and individual instruction. And the facilities are excellent for artistic endeavors — you’ll find two electric kilns, a gas-fired raku kiln, four wheels, tools and molds.

If you’re simply seeking a fun-filled pottery-painting session, that’s on tap too. You can choose to paint ornamental items or functional bowls and cups, all designed and handcrafted by Morada Way Clay’s studio potters.

More interested in poetry than pottery? Check out the Key West Poetry Guild, an organization with a vibrant history that’s open to everyone intrigued by poetic expression. The guild meets at 7 p.m. the first Sunday of every month at Blue Heaven (described elsewhere in these entries as an amazing restaurant, and a site where Ernest Hemingway once refereed hometown boxing matches).

In the courtyard of Key West's funky and fabulous Blue Heaven, "breakfast with the roosters" is a favorite morning ritual. (Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

The Key West Poetry Guild holds monthly meetings at the funky and fabulous Blue Heaven. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

You’ll find Blue Heaven at 729 Thomas St. in Key West’s historic Bahama Village neighborhood. For information about the guild and its meetings, call Nance Boylan at 908-591-5566.

If you’re a writer in the Upper Keys, you can hone your craft at Key Largo’s Latitude 25 Writers Group. Meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. the last Wednesday of every month at the Key Largo Library, located in the Tradewinds Shopping Center at MM 101.4.

Attendees are encouraged to bring and share short pieces of writing. For more information, call Steve Gibbs at 305-451-4164.

In the Lower Keys, the Keys Writers Group meets the first and third Wednesday of every month at the Big Pine Library, 213 Key Deer Blvd. Everyone from budding writers to published authors can read their works aloud and receive constructive critiquing and suggestions from members of the group.

The group encourages everyone’s talent and desire to put their words on paper, so it’s a good place to build confidence in your own unique voice. For more information, email Joan@vestaastrology.com.

The Art Studio in Marathon offers classes and enjoyable creative events like Family Fun Night. (Photo courtesy of The Art Studio)

The Art Studio in Marathon offers classes and enjoyable creative events like Family Fun Night. (Photo courtesy of The Art Studio)

Are you visiting Marathon? Then you’ll find a wonderful haven for exploring a wide variety of media. It’s called, simply, The Art Studio and it’s located at MM 53.6 oceanside.

Among the offerings are workshops to learn painting in oil, watercolors and acrylic, as well as sculpting and painting pottery. Other subjects include throwing clay, fusing glass, creating jewelry and painting and glazing self-selected ceramics. In other words, it would be hard NOT to discover an intriguing aspect of artistry to delve into.

If viewing the work of other creative people is what inspires you most, then Key West has a perfect event for you. It’s the monthly Key West Artisan Market, a lively open-air showcase held outside the island city’s Restaurant Store at 1111 Eaton St.

Get inspired by the work of local artists and craft experts at the Key West Artisan Market.

Get inspired by the work of local artists and craft experts at the Key West Artisan Market.

Local artisans are on hand to show, sell and discuss their work — from delicate jewelry to made-in-the-Keys culinary treats. Authors, performers and purveyors of craft beer and wine add to the inviting vibe. The market typically takes place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. the first Sunday of each month during season through May.

Want to know more about the creative “palette” in the Florida Keys? Just click here for information on the island chain’s rich variety of opportunities and offerings in the visual, literary and performing arts.

Comments

Fishing With Hemingway

Carol Shaughnessy | January 2015

The Hemingway name really matters in Key West. After all, Ernest Hemingway lived on this tiny coral rock for most of the 1930s — fishing for marlin and other gamefish, penning some of America’s most enduring literary masterpieces (including “To Have and Have Not,” his only novel set in the United States), and leaving a legacy that still draws writers to the island today.

Ernest Hemingway's grandson John Hemingway "greets" a life-size sculpture of his famous relative at Key West's Custom House Museum. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

Ernest Hemingway’s grandson John Hemingway “greets” a life-size sculpture of his famous relative at Key West’s Custom House Museum. (Photo by Rob O’Neal)

In addition there’s Pauline Hemingway, the author’s wife during his Key West years, who remained a resident and guiding force in island society even after her husband moved on.

There’s Lorian Hemingway, Ernest’s author granddaughter, who immerses herself in Key West during frequent visits and has directed a locally-based short story competition for more than 30 years.

And then there’s John Hemingway, grandson to Ernest, who was in Key West recently helping debut a remarkable new exhibit about his legendary relative. John Hemingway too is an author, whose book “Strange Tribe” paints a fascinating portrait of his complicated grandfather and equally complicated father.

But even more fascinating for those who visit the island Ernest Hemingway loved is the exhibit at the renowned Custom House Museum. Titled “Following the Fish: Hemingway in Key West,” it showcases Ernest’s love of Florida Keys fishing — a sport he did much to popularize among fellow writers, readers and anglers.

John Hemingway enjoys the Custom House exhibit with the museum's senior staff. From left are Michael Gieda (left), John, Gerri Sidoti and Cori Convertito. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

John Hemingway enjoys the Custom House exhibit with the museum’s senior staff. From left are Michael Gieda, John, Gerri Sidoti and Cori Convertito. (Photo by Rob O’Neal)

It also spotlights a surprising aspect of the late author’s personality: conservation activities that are an intriguing counterpoint to his well-known passion for boating giant marlin, tuna and other prey (a pursuit sometimes compared to oceanic big game hunting).

“What the exhibit endeavors to do is show that, while Hemingway is perceived as an aggressive personality, he did have a vested interest in safeguarding the fish populations in the Florida Straits,” said Cori Convertito, curator at the Custom House. “By inviting scientists from the Academy of Natural Sciences to visit this region with the intention to study marlin, tuna and other species, Hemingway demonstrated his true preservationist disposition.”

When he wasn’t writing literary classics, Hemingway plied the waters between Key West and Cuba on his 38-foot fishing boat, “Pilar.” Encounters with finned prey found their way into his books from “To Have and Have Not,” set in Depression-era Key West, to the Nobel Prize–winning “The Old Man and the Sea.”

The striking red-brick Custom House Museum overlooks Key West Harbor. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The striking red-brick Custom House Museum overlooks Key West Harbor. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Visitors to the Custom House will discover a model of “Pilar” on display — as well as Hemingway’s detailed fishing logs and field notes, which illustrate his quest to understand the science of fishing.

Particularly engaging is a 1937 letter to Ernest from the Belmar Fishing Club, informing him that he has been awarded a “Glory of the Sport Fraternity” pin recognizing his “outstanding catches and activities in promoting angling.”

Other exhibit elements focus on the Keys’ angling legacy and its environmental effects.

The author himself presides over the collection. A six-foot-tall bronze sculpture of Hemingway, created by internationally acclaimed artist Terry Jones, depicts him in casual garb, holding a fishing rod — as though he’s ready to step aboard “Pilar” and cast off to battle monsters of the deep.

Tackle to do just that has pride of place in the exhibit: antique fishing tackle utilized by big game fishermen during the 1930s and 40s.

John Hemingway tries the fishing simulator at the Custom House Museum's fascinating exhibit about his grandfather's passion for fishing. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

John Hemingway tries the fishing simulator at the Custom House Museum’s fascinating exhibit about his grandfather’s passion for fishing. (Photo by Rob O’Neal)

Standouts include a Greenheart rod with a Pflueger Atlapac reel, South Bend marlin teasers designed by Western writer (and Keys fishing aficionado) Zane Grey, a Pompanette 6” flying gaff and much more.

“Following the Fish” is presented by the Key West Art & Historical Society with support and collaboration from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and Mote Marine Laboratory.

It’s scheduled to run through July 2015, and those intrigued by angling and Hemingway’s work are invited to check it out. They can even attempt to emulate Ernest’s skill by trying a challenging fishing simulator — just as John Hemingway did when he helped launch the must-see exhibit.

Comments

Grooms and Blooms — Weddings in Key West

Steve Smith | January 2015

What an exciting time in which we find ourselves! Many of us, and our friends, have recently married, now that marriage equality is spreading across our country. Since Florida joined the states with marriage equality, Key West has seen an uptick in same-sex weddings.

Blogger Steve Smith  is flanked by William Lee Jones (left) and Aaron Huntsman, pioneers in Florida's fight for marriage equality.

Blogger Steve Smith is flanked by William Lee Jones (left) and Aaron Huntsman, pioneers in Florida’s fight for marriage equality.

Most notable was that of Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones who were wed just after midnight Jan. 6. Other local couples “tying the knot” include Sam and Jerry of Sam’s Treasure Chest, who have been together for 54 years; and Mike Roth and Neil McMichael, who have been together 31 years. WOW — this journey to marriage equality has come a long way in the last year.

Some of you may remember Key West’s Atlantic Shores Resort, fondly known for its clothing-optional sunning deck and pool and its Sunday Tea Dance under the stars. Many of us knew where the property’s amazing live webcam was located and positioned ourselves in the middle by the Atlantic Shores sign, telling our friends when to go online so we could wave to them over this new thing called the world wide web.

In June 2000, the Shores was the location of the first live “gay wedding” webcast. Locals Chip Clark and Dale Redford celebrated their union accompanied by several hundred of their local friends, and shared the moment over the Shores’ webcam.

The Harry S. Truman Little White House is one of Key West's unique historic wedding venues. (Photo courtesy of the Little White House Museum)

The Harry S. Truman Little White House is one of Key West’s unique historic venues for weddings. (Photo courtesy of the Little White House Museum)

Key West being such a tiny island, it has embraced equality for decades. It’s exciting to select from our many wedding venues that offer a perfect setting where you can legally marry and formalize your life commitment. Over the next few weeks I want to share some of the great historic venues to consider for your upcoming wedding, or legalization of your prior commitment ceremony.

Unique among our wedding venues is the Harry S. Truman Little White House Museum, a property built in 1890 — which actually was the winter White House during 11 island getaways by President Truman. The house has also welcomed former presidents Dwight Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton. Imagine holding your ceremony in the president’s living room and a dinner or your reception in the president’s dining room!

The classic Audubon House & Tropical Gardens, located in historic Old Town, takes you back to mid-19th-century Key West. The home was built in the 1840s and reflects the elegance of a wealthy family who lived in the era of the flourishing shipwreck salvage industry. The romantic tropical gardens provide a perfect wedding setting — where you and your guests can wander brick pathways through tropical foliage including orchids, bromeliads, rare palms and colorful crotons.

Gourmet Nibbles & Flowers can transform a wedding setting into a wonderland of blooms. (Photo courtesy of Gourmet Nibbles & Flowers)

Gourmet Nibbles & Flowers can transform a wedding setting into a wonderland of blooms. (Photo courtesy of Gourmet Nibbles & Flowers)

For more than a decade, Gourmet Nibbles & Flowers — local purveyor of flowers and gifts owned by Richard Dennison and his husband Ron Rupe — has been providing couples with colorful tropical bouquets and floral displays accenting their ceremonies.

Richard, also known as Ms. D, has tirelessly entertained our community at numerous drag shows and charity pageants, claiming the title of Key West Queen Mother 19, Miss Firecracker and the Corn Queen are among other titles, while raising tens of thousands of dollars for local charities. Gourmet Nibbles & Flowers will certainly help make your ceremony sparkle with color and a sprinkling of fairy dust.

Click here to subscribe to the Florida Keys & Key West’s LGBT travel blog.

Comments

Wounded Warriors Meet Keys Dolphins During Soldier Ride

Julie Botteri | January 2015

Each January, our small island community of Marathon welcomes a special group of men and women for an interactive session with bottlenose dolphins in the Florida Keys. It’s part of Soldier Ride, an annual cycling event (one of many around the country) that begins in Miami and concludes in Key West.

Marathon residents and visitors greet Soldier Ride participants. About 60 vets -- most suffering severe injuries from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- and their supporters joined in the ride down segments of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. (All photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Marathon residents and visitors greet Soldier Ride participants — about 60 vets, most suffering severe injuries from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their supporters. (All photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

When the group of 60 wounded military veterans arrived in the Middle Keys last Friday, Keys residents and visitors stood at the roadside to cheer and shout thanks and praise as the warrior participants pedaled through town to make their way across the Seven Mile Bridge — the longest span of 43 that help make up the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.

Some riders, missing one or more limbs after combat injuries, used specially adapted bicycles to participate in support of their injured comrades. It was a moving tribute to see, and an even more important reminder of our daily American freedoms.

After their crossing, soldiers were welcomed by Dolphin Research Center for swims with the dolphins, sharing flipper shakes and learning dolphin-training techniques.

DRC, founded by a Vietnam vet, values the work soldiers do to keep us safe — and honors their service by sharing fun and a moment of bliss amid the soldiers’ adjusting to the challenges of returning stateside.

Neil Boekel (right) a former Army Staff Sergeant injured after an explosive ambush in Iraq, completes a dolphin dorsal fin tow at Dolphin Research Center.

Neil Boekel (right), a former Army Staff Sergeant injured after an explosive ambush in Iraq, completes a dolphin dorsal fin tow at Dolphin Research Center.

For Neil Boekel, a 34-year-old former Army staff sergeant injured after a 2010 explosive ambush in Baghdad, the experience of interacting with a dolphin was more than he expected. I was honored to speak with him.

“It was like giving a puppy to a roomful of kids,” he said. “We all just wanted to touch it, play with it — we just wanted its attention as much as it wanted ours. We all just turned into a bunch of goobers playing with the dolphin in the water.”

The experience was equally rewarding for the research center’s staff. “When the soldiers get into the water with the dolphins, they have this moment of connection and it opens up the possibilities that there’s joy to be had,” said Rita Irwin, president and CEO of the facility.

Later, Neil admitted that he and others were initially apprehensive about being in the water with the mammals. But as each person in his group successfully circled the lagoon holding a dolphin’s dorsal fin, it was obvious to me that they quickly relaxed. Jokes and delighted laughter skimmed as easily across the water’s surface as the squeaking dolphins did.

Brandon Dodson and Flagler the dolphin splash each other at Dolphin Research Center.

Brandon Dodson and Flagler the dolphin splash each other at Dolphin Research Center.

I asked Neil what it meant to him and fellow veterans to step outside their world and do something so unusual.

“It’s such a new experience, and you’re focused on this experience — you don’t have time to trip over yourself,” he responded. “You forget to be afraid of loud noises, or shadows in the corner of your eye, because you’re too busy trying to figure out why you’re in the water with a pack of dolphins.”

Neil also shared some thoughts that brought me to tears. He told me his first two years after leaving the service were unpleasant, dark, and he would never have spoken to me or anyone about his experiences.

Now, five years later, he can. He lends help to soldiers who are just getting out, both with teaching vets surfing as part of a program in Florida’s Panhandle and through Soldier Ride events.

“It’s not necessarily what we’re doing, it’s the group itself,” he explained. “In this group, you find someone who’s riding a bike for the first time, somebody who’s getting outside again for the first time. Today, I got to be the guy who got the cane out of the back of the truck to bring to my buddy to help him out.”

Participants in Soldier Ride pedal across the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys.

Participants in Soldier Ride pedal across the Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys.

Organized by the Wounded Warrior Project, Soldier Ride events raise public awareness and support for the needs of severely injured military members involved in Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts returning to the U.S.

Rehabilitative opportunities and monies help provide for basic comfort items and transporting soldiers and their families between home and hospital — and develop supportive peer-mentoring programs.

“On these rides and these events … you get to see the future; you get to see a little glimpse of hope,” Neil said. “You know where you are now, and you get to see little bit of what tomorrow might have.”

Comments

Key West Men Wed in Keys’ First Same-Sex Marriage

Carol Shaughnessy | January 2015

At about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 6, two Key West men whose lawsuit helped pave the way for marriage equality in Florida said “I Do” in the Florida Keys’ first legal same-sex wedding.

Aaron Huntsman (front left) and William Lee Jones (front right) say "I Do" on the steps of Key West's Monroe County Courthouse in the Keys' first same-sex marriage. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Aaron Huntsman (front left) and William Lee Jones (front right) say “I Do” in the Keys’ first same-sex marriage. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones signed and received their marriage license — the first ever issued to a same-sex couple in the Keys — just after midnight at Key West’s Monroe County Courthouse.

Moments later, wearing matching black tuxes and electric blue vests, facing each other and holding hands on the courthouse steps, they were wed in a simple yet moving ceremony before about 500 enthusiastic spectators.

After Aaron and Lee spoke their vows and exchanged handmade silver rings, Rev. Steve Torrence pronounced the words that many thought they would never hear.

“By the power vested in me by the State of Florida, I do now declare that you are legally married,” the reverend said jubilantly.

Aaron (center) and Lee (left) celebrate with supporters after being declared legally married early Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in Key West. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Aaron (center) and Lee (left) celebrate with supporters after being declared legally married early Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, in Key West. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The spectators, some waving signs supporting marriage equality, erupted in cheers as the new spouses embraced and kissed.

“It’s official — we’re married!” marveled Aaron just after the ceremony. “We’ve been wanting this and hoping for this for such a long time. We felt in our hearts that we had been married since our first year together, and now it’s real — in Florida!”

In July 2014, in response to the couple’s lawsuit protesting Florida’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage, Florida Keys Judge Luis Garcia issued a landmark ruling stating the ban was discriminatory and unconstitutional.

But a subsequent state appeal derailed all wedding plans — until U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida’s county court clerks could issue licenses to same-sex couples beginning at midnight Jan. 5.

Lee (right) adjusts Aaron's bowtie during their tux fitting before the wedding. Lee’s shackle bracelet encircles his left wrist. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Lee (right) adjusts Aaron’s bowtie during their tux fitting before the wedding. Lee’s shackle bracelet encircles his left wrist. (Photo by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The afternoon before their wedding, Aaron and Lee were fitted for their tuxes at Timmy Tuxedo’s in Key West.

There, Lee spoke about removing an unwanted and highly symbolic article of apparel — a large silver-toned bracelet that completely encircled his left wrist.

“A friend of ours gave it to me the day after we filed our lawsuit, and it’s been shackled on here ever since,” Lee explained. “I call it my shackle of inequality. Tonight at midnight, I get to take it off.”

Shortly after the ceremony, surrounded by friends and supporters on the courthouse steps, he did just that.

“I’m elated, overjoyed, that I finally am legally recognized with the man that I’ve loved for 12 years now,” said an emotional Lee.

Aaron (second from left) and Lee (fourth from right) cheer with their supporters after being declared legally married in Key West. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Aaron (second from left) and Lee (fourth from right) cheer with supporters after their historic wedding in Key West. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The county clerk’s office in Key West opened at 11:30 p.m. Jan. 5 and, just after midnight, issued nine other marriage licenses to same-sex couples. While other weddings took place in the wee hours of the morning Jan. 6, Aaron and Lee’s ceremony was the first in the county and in the Florida Keys.

Key West has been at the forefront in LGBT issues since the 80s and this is just historical,” said Aaron. “We couldn’t have done it without the support of the community.”

Key West and the Florida Keys have long been recognized as a leading destination for memorable weddings — whether traditional exchanges of vows or unique affairs including underwater ceremonies. Now, with same-sex marriage legal in Florida, the island chain is poised to welcome even more happy couples eager to wed.

For information about getting married in the Keys, click here.

Comments

Wedding Bells Continue Key West’s Embrace of Equality

Steve Smith | January 2015

In October 2014, Key West’s Fantasy Fest was themed, “Animeted Dreams & Adventures,” inspired by Japanese anime and other forms of creative animation. The two Key West men chosen as grand marshals of the highlight parade, however, were “animeted” by their own dream: that of being allowed to marry legally in Florida.

Aaron Huntsman (left) and William Lee Jones, pioneers in Florida's fight for same-sex marriage equality, were grand marshals  of the spectacular Fantasy Fest parade. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Aaron Huntsman (left) and William Lee Jones, pioneers in Florida’s fight for same-sex marriage equality, were grand marshals of the 2014 Fantasy Fest parade. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Festival officials selected bartenders Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones to be grand marshals because of their efforts to bring same-sex marriage equality to Florida and the Keys.

Earlier in 2014, they won a landmark court ruling overturning Florida’s statewide same-sex marriage ban for Florida Keys residents. This ruling, by Keys Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, was the first one that determined Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage violated constitutional rights. An expected stay was placed in effect on the ruling until a higher court review took place.

On New Years Day 2015, U. S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that, when the stay expired at midnight Jan. 5, gay men and women in Florida could legally marry.

At 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, history was made as marriage equality began in Florida. Shortly afterward the Florida Keys’ first same-sex wedding — uniting Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones — was performed on the steps of Key West’s Monroe County Courthouse.

Aaron and Lee marry on the courthouse steps as television crews document the Florida Keys' first same-sex marriage. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Aaron and Lee marry on the courthouse steps as television crews document the Florida Keys’ first same-sex wedding. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The courthouse complex is the same location where the 2014 lawsuit challenging the state’s Definition of Marriage Amendment was filed and the amendment ultimately was deemed unconstitutional.

As might be expected in one of the country’s top-rated destinations for gay and lesbian travelers, for years commitment ceremonies have been performed virtually every day in Key West by clergy and notaries.

Prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage, Key West was the first city in Florida, and the Keys’ Monroe County the first county in Florida, to officially recognize same-sex domestic partnerships and to encourage and embrace marriage equality.

More than 10 years ago, the Key West City Commission passed resolutions that supported same-sex marriage and decried then-President George Bush’s proposed constitutional amendment banning the unions. The city’s measure also urged private companies to offer health benefits to their employees’ same-sex partners.

In 2003, Key West's Pride Parade marked the debut of an iconic sea-to-sea Key West Pride Flag made by rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Key West’s iconic sea-to-sea rainbow flag, made in 2003 by rainbow flag creator Gilbert Baker, exemplifies the island’s longstanding embrace of equality. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The island city is the birthplace of the “white ribbon for equality” campaign, for which people wear white ribbons to signify their support for equal marriage rights for gays and lesbians. The campaign was quickly adopted by Equality Florida, whose spokespeople urged other state and national organizations to follow Key West’s lead.

Beginning Jan. 6, 2015, same-sex couples from near and afar are expected to come to Key West and the Keys to exchange their vows in the many venues around the island chain. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing insights about gay weddings, receptions, and honeymoons — so stay tuned!

In the meantime, for more information about the Keys and Key West, their wedding opportunities and their many amenities, visit fla-keys.com/weddings or fla-keys.com/gay.

Click here to subscribe to the Florida Keys & Key West’s LGBT travel blog.

Comments

Key West Men to Wed in Keys’ First Same-Sex Marriage

Steve Smith | January 2015

Two Key West men, whose lawsuit helped pave the way for same-sex marriage equality in Florida, are to wed just after midnight tonight in the Florida Keys’ first same-sex marriage.

William Lee Jones (left) and Aaron Huntsman (center) complete their marriage license application at Key West's Monroe County Courthouse Friday, Jan. 2, 2015. At right is Amy Heavilin, clerk of the court. (Photos by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

William Lee Jones (left) and Aaron Huntsman (center) complete their marriage license application before Amy Heavilin, clerk of the court. (Photos by Rob O’Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who completed their application paperwork at Key West’s Monroe County Courthouse Friday, are to receive the Keys’ first marriage license and then exchange vows outside the courthouse.

In July 2014, in response to the couple’s lawsuit protesting Florida’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage, Florida Keys Judge Luis Garcia ruled that the ban was discriminatory and unconstitutional. But the state appealed, putting Aaron and Lee’s wedding plans on hold — until New Year’s Day, when U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida’s county court clerks can issue licenses to same-sex couples beginning at midnight Monday.

At the courthouse Friday, Aaron and Lee displayed a certificate showing they had completed a pre-marital course, signed their application before circuit court clerk Amy Heavilin, and paid the fee that will allow them to receive their license and marry.

A joyful Aaron (right) and Lee leave the court clerk's office in Key West after after completing their historic marriage license application Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.

A joyful Aaron (right) and Lee leave the court clerk’s office in Key West after after completing their historic marriage license application Friday, Jan. 2, 2015.

According to a spokesperson for the clerk’s office, the office will open at 11:30 p.m. tonight and prepare to issue up to 100 marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

While other weddings may take place in the wee hours Tuesday morning, Aaron and Lee’s ceremony is to be the first in the county and in the Florida Keys.

Plans call for events at the courthouse, including the wedding, to be live-streamed beginning at 11:45 p.m. tonight. Click here to view the historic event.

Click here to subscribe to the Florida Keys & Key West’s LGBT travel blog.

Comments

Resolve to Experience Colorful Keys Dive Events in 2015

Julie Botteri | December 2014

The Florida Keys are famed for their offbeat celebrations. But many people don’t know that a good number of those festivities take place underwater — along the continental United States’ only contiguous living coral barrier reef.

Participants in the Underwater Music Festival might even spot a mermaid (a.k.a. Samantha Langsdale) beneath the waves in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Participants in the Underwater Music Festival might even spot a mermaid (a.k.a. Samantha Langsdale) beneath the waves in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

It’s true. In 2015, divers and snorkelers can make a resolution to “immerse themselves” in unique events in the waters surrounding America’s southernmost island chain.

For example, they can “egg-splore” for hidden eggs during the annual Underwater Easter Egg Hunt. Or they might join costumed mermaids and mer-musicians at the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. The submerged songfest is held each July at Looe Key Reef, an area of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary approximately six miles south of Big Pine Key.

Coming in August 2015, the inaugural Upper Keys Reef Crawl promises fun, sun and camaraderie for outdoor and underwater enthusiasts — as they dive, snorkel, kayak and paddle among the beautiful reefs and abundant sea life on sites between Key Largo and Islamorada.

Planned highlights include hands-on seminars presented by the renowned Coral Restoration Foundation and REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), plus local entertainment, cuisine and casual Keys flair. VIP cards are available for access to specials and programs during the exhilarating event.

Every October, Key Largo’s quirky Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest attracts dozens of divers who pit their paring skills against the naturally buoyant gourds, all hoping to fashion a winning face. Some of the “artists” in past years have carved creations so spooky they even scare the fish!

Tuxes, wedding gowns and scuba gear are the proper attire for those diving into matrimony in the Florida Keys.

Tuxes, wedding gowns and scuba gear are the proper attire for those diving into matrimony in the waters surrounding the Florida Keys.

Speaking of memorable events, the Keys’ living coral barrier reef offers romantic couples — like wedding parties and guests — an opportunity to don boutonnières and bathing suits and tie the knot with exotic sea creatures in attendance.

Notable sites for undersea ceremonies include the welcoming arms of the 9-foot-tall “Christ of the Abyss,” a 4,000-pound bronze statue within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary adjacent to Key Largo’s John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Of course, some people are more interested in environmental pursuits than romantic ones. For them, each year REEF partners with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to create lionfish derbies where divers can capture and remove non-native lionfish from Keys waters.

According to REEF, it’s estimated that more than 14,800 invasive lionfish have been collected in these derbies. Participants can win cash and prizes for bagging the most, biggest and smallest lionfish — in addition to helping preserve Keys habitats and ecosystems.

Divers can participate in a derby from their own private vessel or join a local dive operator’s charter. Call 305-852-0030 for information on 2015 dates.

Jim and Lisa Bosworth create a Jack-O-Lantern during a past Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest in the waters off Key Largo. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jim and Lisa Bosworth create a Jack-O-Lantern during a past Underwater Pumpkin Carving Contest in the waters off Key Largo. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Any time this year, water lovers can enroll in the “Become a Reef Explorer” underwater program that spotlights the Keys’ coral reefs. Enthusiasts of all experience levels can log dives or snorkels along reefs between Key Largo and Key West in a specially created souvenir journal provided by a local dive or snorkel operator.

After collecting one reef stamp in each of the five regions of the Keys, participants can email reefexplorer@fla-keys.com for an access code enabling them to download, personalize and print a Florida Keys Reef Explorer poster ready for framing at home.

Do some of the activities outlined here sound slightly wacky? Absolutely, and that’s part of what makes them such quintessential Keys-style fun. But at the same time, most carry a serious message of reef preservation.

Overall, they encourage divers and snorkelers to enjoy the wonders of the Florida Keys barrier reef while minimizing their impacts on the underwater environment — and choosing to do that is a resolution REALLY worth making.

Comments

The Saga of Santa Keys

Carol Shaughnessy | December 2014

‘Twas the night before Christmas and all through the Keys
Smiling holiday revelers savored the breeze.
But in other locations, nobody was smiling
as they braved freezing temperatures far from the islands.

Santa Keys and his "Key deer" wish everyone a Merry Christmas. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)

Santa Keys and his tiny “Key deer” wish everyone a Merry Christmas. (Photo by Carol Tedesco)

While Keys visitors partied in warm outdoor bars,
toasting friends with mojitos sipped under the stars,
Christmas spirits had plans for the cold “refugees”
who were physically elsewhere but craving the Keys.

That’s why, out on the beach, there arose such a squawking
of unsettled seagulls in seagull talk talking
that drivers of cars cruising next to the ocean
couldn’t figure out what had caused all the commotion.

The moon on the shining white crescent of beach
made the shoreline of Cuba seem almost in reach
when what to the drivers’ amazement appeared
but a Santa in flip-flops and seaweed-decked beard.

Santa Keys leaves a holiday tree for his finned friends in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Frazier Nivens)

Santa Keys leaves a holiday tree for his finned friends in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Frazier Nivens)

Now, this Santa was wise and this Santa was bright
and he sure sympathized with the northerners’ plight.
In his past life, before heading south for the sun,
he too spent the winter months freezing his buns.

So he hijacked a sturdy old boat used for fishin’,
found some Key deer to pull it and started his mission.
Sailing skyward to surf on a tropical breeze,
he steered his ship north bringing gifts from the Keys.

As palm fronds before a wild summer storm fly
(when the shutters are closed and the water is high),
Santa Keys cruised the northern states with his Key deer
spreading visions of warm blue seas and island cheer.

Even the U.S. Coast Guard helps Santa Keys on his annual mission. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Even the U.S. Coast Guard helps Santa Keys on his annual mission. (Photo by Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News Bureau)

At each house where the residents longed for the tropics,
he left small Keys tokens stuffed deep in their stockings.
There were conch shells and flip-flops and Key lime tidbits,
Margarita mix too — and “Buffett’s Greatest Hits.”

There were fishing reels, dive logs and lotions for sun
Conch Republic flags, stickers that read “U.S. 1,”
tiny replicas of Key West’s Southernmost Point
and shrimp sauce from a funky old Keys seafood joint.

When he dropped the last gift at the last snow-topped house,
Santa Keys told his Key deer to steer a course south.
His farewell drifted back on a sweet balmy breeze:
“Merry Christmas to all — now come visit the Keys!”

Comments

Happy Holidays from Key West!

Steve Smith | December 2014

For gay and lesbian visitors this holiday season, Key West is a place where the welcome is as warm as the balmy subtropical temperatures. It’s a place to make new friends, dress up or dress down, or just wear a dress. And it’s a place for enjoying hotspots and happenings on an irresistible island unlike any other.

Key West's lovely La Te Da, an island icon, has been revitalized under new ownership. (Photo courtesy of La Te Da)

Key West’s lovely La Te Da, an island landmark, has been revitalized under new ownership. (Photo courtesy of La Te Da)

Among those notable hotspots is the landmark La Te Da, which has maintained a loyal following of locals and visitors over the years. New owners Christopher Rounds and his husband Patrick Hegarty have completely revamped La Te Da (located at 1125 Duval St.) and its entertainment schedule. Visitors will find a gourmet menu in the restaurant and fresh, fun talent at this deliciously renovated guesthouse and nightclub.

Be sure to catch Christopher Peterson’s EYECONS show in the Crystal Cabaret, with Christopher showcasing his talents as Lucille Ball, Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Marilyn Monroe. On alternating nights catch the Randy Roberts LIVE show for Randy’s appearance as Cher, Bette Midler, Joan Crawford and Carol Channing.

Plus, in the newly remodeled downstairs piano bar, Debra and Patrick perform new-age jazz during the week and Dave Bootle offers his big sound and hilarious antics on alternating nights. And on Sundays, don’t miss the famed Tea Dance starting at 4 p.m.

Theater lovers can see Terrence McNally in a one-night-only performance at the Waterfront Playhouse. (Photo by Jeffrey Hornstein)

Theater lovers can see the legendary Terrence McNally in a one-night-only performance at the Waterfront Playhouse. (Photo by Jeffrey Hornstein)

The winter brings award-winning plays to Key West’s noted Waterfront Playhouse, located at 312 Wall St. and founded in 1939, and the Red Barn Theatre at 319 Duval St. (rear).

The Waterfront’s 2015 season lineup includes a truly memorable evening with Terrence McNally. At 8 p.m. Jan. 30, McNally — a four-time Tony Award winner and arguably the most remarkable playwright of the era — will take the stage for a one-night-only, once-in-a-lifetime event. All tickets are $75 and proceeds will benefit the Waterfront Playhouse, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary season of producing great theater in Key West.

In addition to McNally’s appearance, the playhouse’s season includes “Noises Off,” “She Loves Me: In Concert,” “Next Fall” and Monty Python’s “Spamalot.”

The Red Barn Theatre was originally built as a carriage house in 1829. It had its humble beginnings as a theatrical venue in the 1940s, and was a puppet theater in the 1970s. When 1980 rolled around, a group of actors and technical geniuses renovated the theater and the Red Barn as we now know it was born.

Don't miss "The Last Night of Ballyhoo" at the Red Barn Theatre. (Photo courtesy of the Red Barn)

Catch “The Last Night of Ballyhoo” at the Red Barn Theatre. (Image courtesy of the Red Barn)

Often considered a Broadway-caliber theater, it offers a 2015 season that includes “The Last Night of Ballyhoo,” The Skivvies, “Clark Gable Slept Here” and “Outside Mullingar.”

Before or after your evening of theater, check out the Shameless Lounge and Restaurant — recently opened at 610 Greene St. featuring “shamelessly great spirits, eats and entertainment.” The cuisine is under the direction of noted chef Jennifer E., who was formerly at local landmark eateries Blue Heaven and Saluté. Shameless features live entertainment, a Sunday Drag Brunch and a Monday comedy night with eccentric island icon QMitch Jones.

And don’t miss a chance to visit the Key West Pub, located at 1114 Duval St. in the space formerly occupied by Alice’s Restaurant — the locale where Gilbert Baker created Key West’s historic 1.25-mile-long sea-to-sea rainbow flag in 2003. The gay-owned pub, dance club and cabaret features comfortably priced food and cocktails, daily specials and live entertainment including the Fabulous Spectrelles and karaoke nights.

Have a wonderful holiday season and I hope to see you here in Key West!

Click here to subscribe to the Florida Keys & Key West’s LGBT travel blog.

 

Comments

Google

couk